If there is one document in estate planning that generates numerous questions it is the advance medical directive.
In an effort to make this document less confusing and a bit less intimidating I have set forth some of the most common questions I have encountered related to this topic.
What is an advance medical directive? An advance medical directive is a written document that informs others of your wishes about your health care. It allows you to name a person, referred to as your agent, to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. It expresses your desires and preferences about medical treatment in case you become unable to communicate these instructions during terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness.
What is the difference between a living will and an advance medical directive? Today, the terms living will, advance medical directive, healthcare proxy, and healthcare directive are used interchangeably. When living wills were first introduced they were used to help people express their wishes related to artificial life support and other advance medical techniques at end of life. As the use of living wills grew in popularity, so did the health care concerns addressed in the living wills; it grew to include such medical concerns as tube feeding, resuscitation, and organ donation.
If I have a power of attorney, do I still need an advance medical directive? Yes, although they are similar, they are also very different. In both documents you name an agent to act on your behalf. However, a power of attorney addresses financial and other legal matter while an advance medical directive addresses medical care and treatment. They are two separate documents.
Who should I appoint as my agent under my advance medical directive? It is very important you choose someone you trust; someone you know will follow you wishes. Your advance medical directive is not a list of medical orders but, instead, acts only as guideline. Therefore, it is crucial for you to talk to the person you choose to be your agent to ensure that person fully understands your wishes and desires related to medical care and treatment. Your agent should make the decision you would make if you were able to do so.
When does my advance medical directive go into effect? If you are so sick and can no longer make medical decisions, your medical team would turn to your health care agent for guidance. It will only be used when you are no longer able to make medical decisions for yourself.
What do I do with my advance medical directive after I have it prepared? It is important you tell your agent and loved ones that you have prepared an advance medical directive. Also, make copies of your advance directive to give to your agent, loved ones, caregivers and doctors.
I am young and/or I am healthy, do I really need an advance medical directive? It is advisable that all adults have an advance medical directive, no matter their age or health status. You never know when you may become too sick to make decisions related to your medical treatment. When you have an advance medical directive you have the peace of mind that your named agent will be the person to make your medical decisions and that your wishes related to your care and treatment will be followed.
Can my advance medical directive ever be changed? Yes. As you go through life, oftentimes, your views and opinions related to end of life decisions as well as who should serve as your agent may change. It is important to review your advance medical directive on a regular basis. You can always prepare a new advance medical directive if you have any changes. Just make sure you throw away old copies and provide copies of the new advance medical directive to your agent, loved ones, caregivers and doctors.
Advance medical directives vary from state to state, having an attorney assist you will ensure that your documents comply and satisfy New Jersey requirements. Call Annemarie Schreiber, Certified Elder Law Attorney, at 732-797-1600 for a consultation and see how she can help you!
If you are unable to make it into the office, we are willing to visit you in your home, hospital, assisted living facility, or nursing home.