Understanding Advance Healthcare Directives

The Chamberlain Law Firm

Ensuring that your wishes are upheld in the event of illness or incapacity is a crucial component of estate planning. Advance healthcare directives are integral tools in safeguarding your ability to manage medical decisions. This is especially so when you are unable to make those decisions yourself. In this article, the New Jersey estate planning attorneys at The Chamberlain Law Firm explore the ins and outs of advance healthcare directives.

Types of Advanced Healthcare Directives

In New Jersey, when individuals are planning for future medical care, there are two primary advance healthcare directives. We will also discuss a couple of other directives as well.

Proxy Directive (Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare)

This directive involves selecting a healthcare representative, often referred to as a healthcare proxy or agent. This individual has the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to articulate your choices. Therefore, it’s imperative to have a candid conversation with the person you select. That way, they fully understand your healthcare desires and the scope of decisions they may need to make.

Instruction Directive (Living Will)

A living will is a formalized document detailing your specific wishes concerning medical interventions under varying circumstances. It can include your choices regarding life-sustaining procedures, methods for pain alleviation, organ donation preferences, and other medical procedures. This directive is paramount in offering explicit instructions to your medical team, particularly in instances where your healthcare proxy may be uncertain or unreachable.

The fundamental distinction between a proxy directive and an instruction directive lies in their function. A proxy directive empowers a designated individual to decide on your behalf when you’re incapacitated, whereas an instruction directive conveys your explicit directives on medical treatment in diverse situations. Together, these advance healthcare directives function in tandem to ensure your medical care is in line with your values and preferences.

Other Types of Healthcare Directives

In addition to these two main directives, there are a few others, such as a do not resuscitate order (DNR) and dementia directive. 

A DNR directs medical staff to avoid performing life-sustaining measures if a patient’s breathing ceases or their heart stops. Generally, this is not recommended because people who can potentially be resuscitated will be left alone.  Individuals might opt for a DNR to avoid prolonging terminal illnesses, for example.

A dementia directive is an advance directive where you can outline your preferences for nutrition and life-sustaining treatments if you were to develop dementia. This directive allows you to tailor your medical care preferences according to the potential progression of dementia, recognizing that your wishes might vary at different stages of the disease. Generally it is meant for severe late stage dementia when people have no quality of life and may not want to be kept alive by spoon feeding or artificial nutrition and hydration. Sometimes, a DNR can be a component of this directive.

Establishing An Advanced Healthcare Directive in New Jersey

In New Jersey, here’s what you need to do to create a valid advance healthcare directive:

1. Be at least 18 years of age and possess the mental capacity to make these important decisions.

2. Draft your wishes in writing and sign the document. If you’re physically unable to sign, it’s acceptable to have someone else sign for you. However, you must have directed them to do so.

3. Lastly, the document needs to be validated with the signatures of two adult witnesses or a notary public.

Ultimately, it’s best to work with an attorney because they can ensure that your directives are tailored towards your circumstances. Further, your New Jersey estate planning attorney will make sure you comply with all of the local laws and regulations so that your advance directives will be enforceable.

Once your healthcare directive is ready, you can provide copies to your healthcare representative, primary care physician, and any other relevant healthcare professionals. However, it is not necessary to do this. More importantly, it’s highly recommended to discuss your wishes and preferences with your family and loved ones to ensure everyone is on the same page and fully understands your directives.


Advance healthcare directives are indispensable when it comes to safeguarding your medical and financial wishes. It’s crucial not to simply “set and forget” these documents. Make sure you’re revisiting and updating them regularly to ensure they continue to reflect your current preferences. 

For personalized guidance or legal advice on advance healthcare directives, don’t hesitate to reach out to our skilled estate planning attorneys here at The Chamberlain Law Firm in New Jersey. You can get in touch with us by giving us a call at (201) 273-9763. For more estate planning advice, be sure to check out our Insight Articles.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. In the event you would like to speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your case, contact The Chamberlain Law Firm at (201) 273-9763 to schedule a consultation.

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