Aging and illness can affect your ability to make important medical decisions. For this reason, New Jersey allows you to delegate decision-making authority to another person in the event that you become incapacitated. The state also allows you to draft specific end-of-life instructions, which help ensure your religious or personal beliefs are honored. These documents are referred to as advance health care directives and are valid in New Jersey, provided they meet certain formalities.
An Advance Heath Care Directive is a legal document that goes into effect once you are declared unable to make competent medical decisions for yourself. New Jersey recognizes two types of advance directives: a proxy directive and an instruction directive. You can have one or both. A proxy directive, also referred to as a Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care, allows you to appoint someone, referred to as a representative, to make some or all of the medical decisions that you would have been able to make. An instruction directive, also referred to as a living will, is a document that gives you some control over life-sustaining treatment options. Instruction directives are typically guided by personal or religious beliefs and can help alleviate much of the pressure on a physician or relative in making end of life decisions for you.
Advance health care directives go into effect only after a diagnosis from your physician stating that you cannot comprehend your present condition, or cannot understand the benefits and drawbacks to certain treatment options. The diagnosis must be in writing, confirmed by a second physician and noted in the medical records. Upon this determination, the representative that you named in your directive will have the authority to make all medical decisions, subject to any express limitations or legal exceptions. For example, if life-sustaining treatment is covered in a separate instruction directive, the representative would not have discretion to make these decisions. Further, treatments that are illegal, including physician-assisted suicide, may not be requested by your representative. Directives can be temporary and, in the event you regain the ability to make medical decisions for yourself, the representative's authority becomes ineffective and your consent is required for all treatments.
For an advance directive to be considered valid in New Jersey, certain formalities must be observed. First, the document must be in writing, signed and dated in front of two adult witnesses or, as an alternative, in the presence of a notary. If witnesses are used, they must also sign the document and attest that you are of sound mind and not under the pressure or influence of another person. In order to qualify, neither of the witnesses may be named as your appointed representative under the directive.
New Jersey allows you to supplement any advance directive by either video or audio recording. In addition, a directive may be modified in the same manner that it was executed. If you wish to revoke a directive, you may do so orally or in writing by communicating an intent to revoke to your physician, nurse, representative or other reliable witness. A revocation is still effective even if you have been declared incompetent. Reinstating a revoked directive can be accomplished in the same manner as revocation.