Early this year, we discussed advance directives and their role in estate planning. An advance directive should be part of any estate plan, because it gives you the power to designate who should make decisions about your medical care after a major illness or accident has left you incapacitated.

There are a lot of questions and misconceptions out there about how advance directives work under New Jersey law. Here are a few frequently asked questions about them.

Can my medical representative make decisions about my care at any time?

No. An advance directive does not take away your right to decide what kind of medical care you receive, including end-of-life care, while you are still mentally competent and able to communicate. It is only triggered when a physician determines you cannot understand your diagnosis or treatment option.

What if I regain my mental capacity?

Your healthcare representative would lose their authority. Your doctor would once again need your consent to administer treatment.

How can I keep control over end-of-life decisions?

An instructive directive can help. Commonly known as a living will, an instructive directive contains your instructions for the level of intervention you want in a medical emergency. For example, you can instruct your healthcare representative to put you on a ventilator if you are in a minimally conscious state, but not to prolong your life if you are in a vegetative state.

Does having an advance directive affect my life insurance or health insurance?

No.

How do I create an advance directive?

While you are allowed to do so on your own, having an estate planning attorney help you can greatly reduce the risk of making an error. Ensuring that this and the other parts of your estate plan have been drawn up according to your wishes and properly executed can give you and your family peace of mind.

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