In Blog, Janet Lurie

I am not an alarmist by nature, but as I sit at my dining room table working remotely, I am concerned that many Americans have not prepared their legal affairs in the event they become too sick to make financial and health care decisions for themselves.

As an elder law attorney and an elder myself, I represent some of our most vulnerable population.  Amid all the issues we are now facing, I am asking all of our readers to check their estate planning documents, particularly their Health Care Proxies and/or Living Wills, their Durable Powers of Attorney and their Wills.

Health Care Proxies and/or Living Wills

During this health care crisis it is safe to assume that many are thinking about their health care decisions.   If you have not already done so, this is a good time to think about selecting a Health Care Proxy and setting forth instructions in a Living Will.  A Health Care Proxy appoints someone to make health care decisions for you, if and only if, you are unable to make the decisions for yourself.

A Living Will gives your health care proxy direction on how to make decisions pertaining to end of life.  Do you want maximum treatment used to prolong your life or do you want the right to refuse treatment, even if it means hastening your death?  Do you want cardiac resuscitation? Do you want to be on a respirator or a ventilator?  Do you want a feeding tube?  Do you want antibiotics? Do you want maximum pain medicine?  A Living Will allows you to make these decisions for yourself while able.  Many attorneys use a combined Health Care Proxy and Living Will.

Considerations for Selecting a Health Care Proxy

Who to select as your Health Care Proxy?  In making this decision, it is important to appoint someone who will respect your decisions and act according to your instructions.  If you do not want your life artificially prolonged, do not appoint a child who has attachment issues and would keep you alive despite your stated preferences.  On the other hand, if you want your life prolonged, do not appoint the child who will ‘pull out the plug’ when you start to cough!

When appointing a health care proxy to make decisions under a Living Will, New Jersey requires one person be designed to make decisions regarding end of life.  If two individuals were selected, who would doctors listen to if the individuals disagreed?  When selecting a health care proxy, many individuals become concerned about showing favoritism for one child over another.  However, by selecting one individual, you can avoid unnecessary fights between family members over how health care decisions should be made.

Review Your Documents!

What should you look for when you review the documents?  The first thing is to read them closely.  Are they old?  Is your health care proxy still able to act in that capacity should you have a need for them to act on your behalf? Is the agent still alive?  Do they still have the ability to make decisions or act on your behalf?  What did you say in your Living Will?  Is that still what you would want now, especially in light of the health care crisis we face today?

As an elder law attorney, I always make sure that there is a back-up person or persons to the appointed agent. You are not assured that your spouse, siblings or children will survive you.  Appoint someone whom you trust.  It is alright to appoint an agent that disagrees with your decisions, as long as they respect your right to make your decisions.

If you need to execute estate documents or the revise you already have, Meyerson, Fox, Mancinelli and Conte, P.A. can assist you.  Please do not hesitate to contact us at 201-802-9202.