• James Curcio

Perspective: A.C. Surrogate


The Advance Directive for Healthcare is a document sometimes called a “Living Will.” (Courtesy Photo)

In this week’s installment on basic estate planning, I will address the topic of Advance Directive for Healthcare. This can be a heavy subject, so I like to start with a joke.


A lawyer was trying to convince a reluctant friend that to do some basic estate planning. The lawyer said, “At least consider purchasing a burial plot.” The friend answered, “That’s the last thing I need.” Anyway…


The Advance Directive for Healthcare is a document sometimes called a “Living Will.” The Advanced Directive is intended to provide for healthcare decisions in those circumstances where we have become incapacitated and can no longer speak for ourselves and critical decisions need to be made. The Advance Directive is particularly essential when end-of-life decisions are being made.


An Advance Directive is usually signed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary. A photocopy is generally accepted by doctors and hospitals. The Advanced Directive usually has two major sections: healthcare instructions and identification of a healthcare representative. The instruction section governs decisions about end-of-life treatment the patient wishes to receive or have withheld in the final stages of a terminal condition such as experimental treatment or feeding tube, etc.


The Healthcare Representative, like any fiduciary named in estate planning documents, must be an individual that the patient has absolute faith in to carry out their wishes in the critical moment.


Many forms exist under New Jersey law for Advanced Directives. Because it is so much an important medical decision, it is highly recommended that patients consult their doctors in developing an Advance Directive for healthcare. The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute has a great program called “Conversation of Your Life” with excellent information and materials at: njhcqi.org/coyl.


For those who have received a diagnosis, it is possible to obtain a POLST which is a practitioner’s order for life-sustaining treatment. This is issued by a doctor and can take into consideration the full range of available treatments including hospice and palliative care.


One popular form of advance directive across the country is called “five wishes.” This is highly recommended. Visit Fivewishes.org.


You are really doing a big favor to your loved ones by putting an Advance Directive in place. It is extremely difficult for a spouse, or any loved one, to make a decision to terminate healthcare when advised by doctors that further treatment will be ineffective. Some find it slightly comforting to know that they are carrying out the wishes of their loved one. Of course every individual is different, that’s why it is so important that we get our thoughts and wishes in writing while we are able to do so.


The Atlantic County Surrogate’s Office has a simple form of Advance Directive which is available free of charge. If you have any questions, please call our office. All discussions are confidential. Everyone stay well and have a great summer!



James Curcio

Surrogate

Atlantic County