About Advance Directives

We hope these questions and answers will help you understand how you or someone you love may benefit from our creating an Advance Directive.

What Is an Advance Directive?

Advance Directives are legal documents where you write down how you want your health care handled if you can no longer make or communicate decisions. You may also use an Advance Directive to appoint a person other than yourself to make health care decisions for you. There are two types of Advance Directives: Living Will and Health Care Proxy (Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care).

What Are Living Wills and Health Care Proxies?

Living Wills and Health Care Proxies (Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) are both legal documents that function as Advance Directives.

  • A Living Will is a legal document completed by you that lets you tell your doctor what care you do or do not want if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition or become permanently unconscious and are unlikely to recover. You may choose to decline treatment that prolongs the dying process.
  • A Health Care Proxy (Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) is a legal document completed by you that identifies the person you want to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself. You can say what health care decisions you want made for you and what those decisions should be.

Do I Need To Have An Advance Directive To Go To A Hospital?

No. You do not need an Advance Directive to receive care in a hospital. However, it is a good idea to prepare one in case you become unable to communicate your wishes.

How Do I Prepare An Advance Directive?

Forms to complete both types of Advance Directives (Living Will and/or Health Care Proxy) are available from hospitals, doctors, nurses, social workers, advocacy organizations, and on the State of New Jersey Department of Health website. An attorney may also help you prepare your Advance Directive.

A Health Care Proxy must be signed and dated by you. It is recommended that it also be notarized in case you travel out of state. The person you choose to make health care decisions for you should be someone you trust. It can’t be: your doctor; an employee of your doctor; or an administrator, owner, or employee of a health care facility in which you live or are a patient (unless the person is also your spouse, adult child, or sibling).

When Does an Advance Directive Become Effective?

An Advance Directive becomes effective after you sign it and when you can no longer speak for yourself.

Where Should I Keep My Advance Directive?

You and your family should agree on a safe place to keep your original Advance Directive. You should give copies to your doctor, attorney, and anyone else you appoint to make health care decisions for you. If you are admitted to a hospital, take a copy with you.

Can I Change My Advance Directive?

Yes. You may change or cancel your Living Will or Health Care Proxy by destroying all copies, putting your changes in writing, and by telling your family, attorney, and anyone else who may be involved in your health care. You must tell your doctor of any changes or they may not be effective.

Will Hospitals And Doctors Honor My Advance Directive?

Yes. Hospitals and doctors support a patients’ right to make his or her own medical decisions. They follow Advance Directives that meet state law and medical ethics standards. Hospitals must tell you their policies on Advance Directives and if there are any conflicts they know of between your Advance Directive and hospital policies. If there is a conflict, but you want to continue treatment with a doctor or facility, a written plan of action must be agreed upon and included in your medical record. If you have more than one type of Advance Directive and there is conflict between them, the newer document will be followed.

How Does A POLST Factor Into My Advance Directive?

A POLST (Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) is a form of Advance Directive that is completed by you and your practitioner. It is a form approved by the New Jersey state government (and many other states). It specifically states your goals of care and the types of medical interventions you wish (or do not wish) during end-of-life care. Your POLST form will allow you to make known any personal, cultural, or spiritual practices related to your care.

I Still Have Questions. Who Can I Speak With?

For more information on Advance Directives or a referral, please contact:

  • Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, (973) 926-PALL
  • AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), (888) 687-2277
  • Legal Services of New Jersey: (888) 576-5529. Legal Services of New Jersey provides free legal assistance to low income people in New Jersey.

For more information on Health Care Decision Making, please contact: