What Is a Living Will?

How can you be sure your medical care will be what you want it to be if and when you’re so incapacitated that you’re no longer able to give informed consent to specific procedures? Nearly 37% of all Americans have stated their wishes for end-of-life care in a legal document called an advance directive, or a living will. An experienced estate planning lawyer in New Jersey can assist if you’re a Garden State resident who wants to prepare for the future.

What Kinds of Decisions Does a Living Will Cover?

If you’ve ever had to make a medical decision for a loved one who’s no longer capable of making that decision on his or her own, you know how agonizing that process can be. By drafting and signing an advance directive, you’ll spare your own loved ones from the difficult predicament of having to second-guess what your medical care wishes might be.

Living wills permit you to be selective about the types of interventions you may encounter if you become seriously ill. They’re used as a reference at the end of life when a person is terminally ill and can’t communicate his or her wishes. They can also be used when an individual is permanently unconscious. They should address the types of issues that may occur under these circumstances, such as the following:

Resuscitation: Living wills often contain a DNR (do-not-resuscitate) stipulation that lets physicians know that the person who drafted it does not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation done should his or her heart stop beating.

Mechanical ventilation: Another common stipulation found in living wills concerns the use of mechanical ventilators in end-of-life situations. Advance directives typically address how long mechanical ventilation should be used as well as under what circumstances.

Tube feedings: Intravenous nutrition and feedings through a tube inserted into the stomach are interventions that may be used if a person can no longer swallow. Questions to answer in a living will include whether you would want this intervention, and if you would, for how long.

Dialysis: Dialysis removes waste from a person’s bloodstream if he or she is in kidney failure.

Medications: Advance directives typically address the use of antibiotics, antiviral medications, and pain medications.

Organ donations: If you’re willing to donate your organs for transplantation after your death, medical treatments like mechanical ventilation may be indicated. Under these circumstances, you must specifically state that you understand the need for these types of temporary interventions even if you have otherwise stated in your living will that you don’t wish to receive them.

Drafting a Living Will in New Jersey

Living will requirements vary by state. In New Jersey, these requirements are set out in Code Section 26:2H-53, et seq. Advanced Directives for Health Care. The following stipulations must be met:

State of mind: You must be a competent adult, free from duress or the influence of mind-altering substances. You must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses in front of an attorney, a notary public, or another individual who’s authorized to administer oaths.

Decisions: To the fullest extent possible, you must specify the interventions that you wish to accept or refuse should you find yourself unable to make medical decisions at the time these interventions are offered. This is why it’s always a good idea to discuss your living will with your primary health care provider before you consult with your attorney.

Revocation: You can revoke your living will at any time either orally or by means of a written document.

Physician Protections

An advance directive can protect your best interests, and it can also safeguard your physicians. No doctor who follows the stipulations of a living will in good faith will incur criminal or professional liability. Should a physician be uncomfortable carrying out the directives in a living will, he or she will not be culpable for physician abandonment, which is a type of medical malpractice, so long as a patient’s care is transferred in a timely manner.

Laws are constantly changing, and an experienced New Jersey estate planning lawyer is your best resource if you’re interested in drafting a living will to protect your future. The attorneys at Knee Law Firm have more than six decades of combined experience in advance directives and other areas of elder law and estate planning. Contact our office in Hackensack, New Jersey, at (201) 996-1200 today to get more information and to schedule a consultation.