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How estate planning can help while you’re still alive

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2024 | Estate Planning |

There are people in New Jersey and across the country who will suffer cataclysmic events that leave them incapacitated. Perhaps someone will suffer a brain injury in a motor vehicle accident. Others will experience neurodegenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. There are also people who will suffer the debilitating effects of a stroke. Sadly, for those who have never initiated the estate planning process, such events mean that hospital officials and others might be the ones making end-of-life care decisions on their behalf.

If the idea of someone you barely know making decisions about your health is upsetting, the best thing you can do is prevent it from happening by signing an advance directive as part of your estate plan. This is a legal document that takes effect while you’re still alive, as opposed to other documents, such as a last will and testament, which take effect after you die.

An advance directive is a valuable estate planning tool

Signing an advance directive as part of the estate planning process enables you to retain control over your health. You can use this document to state your preferences regarding issues like ventilators, resuscitation, feeding tubes and more. You might be okay with certain types of care provided to you during a health crisis but not others.

An advance directive is a legally enforceable document. You can also use it to grant power of attorney to someone you trust, perhaps an adult child, a spouse or a close friend. The person you name will then have authority to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated due to illness or an accident.

You must sign the document in front of witnesses

The phrase “living will” refers to an advance directive that you sign in the presence of two credible witnesses. New Jersey law states that such documents are not valid (or enforceable) if not properly witnessed when signed. In addition to witnesses, there are other circumstances where the court will not recognize your advance directive.

For example, if you are in an accident and rescuers place you in an ambulance for transport to a hospital, the paramedics or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) must provide whatever care is necessary to stabilize your condition. They cannot honor an advance directive. A directive takes effect after a physician has examined a patient and certifies that his or her condition is terminal or comatose. If you are 18 or older, you can execute an advance directive as part of the estate planning process.


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