In New Jersey, a health care proxy, also called a health care power of attorney, is a legal form authorizing a person, or agent, to advocate for and make important health care decisions for you if you are not able to do so yourself. In this blog post, estate planning attorney, Christine Matus explains how one can become a health care proxy in New Jersey
Why Have a Health Care Proxy?
Although most of us don’t like to think about it, there may come a time when we can’t make crucial medical decisions for ourselves. Unfortunately, research shows that only approximately one in three adults in the United States have legally designated a health care proxy.
Although you may think that your loved ones know what you would want should you ever be in this position, that is not always the case, especially when it comes to end-of-life matters. At a highly emotional time, this can overwhelm family members and lead to a lot of conflicts.
In emergency situations, care providers will take immediate measures to keep us alive, but once that emergency passes, they will look to others to make other important medical decisions. If there is nothing in place providing for this, the state will need to appoint a guardian to make these decisions on your behalf. The best way to avoid this, especially when critical decisions must be made, is to have a health care proxy in place.
What Kind of Decisions Will a Health Care Proxy Make?
While your power of attorney document can be as specific as you feel comfortable with, a health care proxy can make a wide variety of decisions on your behalf, depending on its terms. If you become incapacitated, your designated proxy can potentially decide
- What medical care and treatments you will receive, including hospital care, home care, psychiatric treatment, and other medical decisions
- Which doctors will provide that care
- Where you receive care in the way of long-term care, assisted living, and nursing home care
- Who takes care of your daily care on an ongoing basis
These are important decisions, and you will want to appoint someone whom you trust and have had these important conversations with.
How is a Healthcare Proxy Created?
The New Jersey law requires that the proxy be formally appointed in writing. In order for the healthcare proxy to be valid, the document that appoints a proxy must have a clear specification and language stating that it is going to be used for such an appointment.
Many medical powers-of-attorneys found in bookstores, discount stores, and stationery shops do not comply with the requirements of the state. This is why you should be careful about signing such documents without consulting a legal professional.
A healthcare proxy document, like an Advance Directive, must be witnessed or acknowledged by two persons before it can be administered to a Notary Public or attorney at law.
Proxy Directives should always be treated the same as other important legal documents. It is important that copies of the Proxy Directive be sent to friends, family members, and physicians. However, it is essential that the original document remains accessible at all times and that its location is known to loved ones.
Witnesses to any one of the documents mentioned above should not be related by blood, or marriage, not be eligible to receive anything from your estate or pursuant to your Will; nor should they be involved in providing your healthcare. If the designated proxy signs the document as a witness, the document will not be considered valid.
Getting Guidance When Making A Health Care Proxy
While there are many standard templates that set out basic health care proxy responsibilities, these can be very generic.
A health care proxy can be as broad or specific as the person making it wants. Unfortunately, lack of specificity can lead to disagreements between the agent and other family members regarding important health care matters. A health care proxy must be able to coordinate with the individual making the financial decisions and there may be times when these individuals disagree.
If you are considering becoming someone else’s health care proxy, it’s important to intimately understand their wishes and the possible pitfalls you may encounter. If you are someone who has no health care proxy in place or only has a generic template POA, you may wish to provide specifics so you can have peace of mind regarding certain situations.
Getting the advice and guidance of a New Jersey estate planning attorney helps when developing a comprehensive health care proxy so these matters can be understood and provided for in advance. To speak with an experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney about these important matters, contact the Matus Law Group online or at (732) 281-0060.