An Advance Directive is a document that allows you to direct who will make health care decisions for you; and to state your wishes for treatment if you become unable to decide for yourself in the future.  Your Advance Directive may be used to accept or refuse any procedure or treatment, including life sustaining treatment.

Your Basic Rights

You have the right to receive an understandable explanation from your doctor of your complete medical condition, expected results, benefits and risks of the treatment recommended by your doctor, and reasonable medical alternatives.  You have the right to accept or refuse any procedure or treatment used to diagnose or treat your physical or mental condition, including life sustaining treatment.  You also have the right to control decisions about your health care in the event you become unable to make your own decisions in the future by completing an Advance Directive.

What Happens if I’m unable to decide about my health care?

If you become unable to make treatment decisions, due to illness or accident, those caring for you will need to know about your values and wishes in making decisions on your behalf. That’s why it is important to write an Advance Directive.

What type of Advance Directives Can I use?

There are three kinds of Advance Directives that you can use to say what you want and who you want your doctors to listen to:

  • A Proxy/Surrogate Directive (also called a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care”) lets you name a “health care representative,” such as a family member or friend, to make health care decisions on your behalf.  The power of Attorney activates whenever you are in an unconscious state and any health care decisions are required.
  • An Instruction Directive (also called a “Living Will”) lets you state what kinds of medical treatments you would accept or reject in certain situations. A living Will activates when it is determined that there is no reasonable hope for recovery and you are in an unconscious state.
  • A Combined Directive lets you do both.  It lets you name a health care representative and tells that person your treatment wishes

Who can fill out these forms?

You can fill out an Advance Directive in New Jersey if you are 18 years of age or older and you are able to make your own  decisions.  You do not need a lawyer to fill it out.

What should I do with my Advance Directive?

You should talk to your doctor about it and give a copy to him or her.  You should also give a copy to your health care representative, family member(s), or others close to you.  Bring a copy with you when you must receive care from a hospital, nursing home, or other health care agency.  Your Advance Directive becomes a part of your medical records.

What if I don’t Have an Advance Directive?

If you become unable to make treatment decisions and you do not have an Advance Directive, your close family members will talk with your doctor and in most cases, may then make decisions on  your behalf.  However, if your family members, doctor, or other caregivers disagree about your medical care, it may be necessary for a court to appoint someone as your legal guardian. (This also may be needed if you do not have a family member to make decisions on your behalf.)  That’s why it’s important to put your wishes in writing to make it clear who should decide for you, and to help your family and doctor know what you want.

Will My Advance Directive be followed?

Yes.  Everyone responsible for your care must respect your wishes that you have stated in your Advance Directive.  However, if your doctor, nurse, or other professional has a sincere objection to respecting your wishes to refuse life-sustaining treatment, he or she may have your care transferred to another professional who will carry them out.

What if I change my mind?

An Advance Directive can be changed or revoked at any time. Advance Directives have no effect until the time when you can no longer make or communicate decisions for yourself.