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Estate planning: The importance of living wills

It is often reported that a significant percentage of adults nationwide, including in New Jersey, neglect to draft wills -- often putting it off for later. It might be natural to expect death to come in old age because many fail to give thought to the fact that death or incapacitation can occur at any age. What will happen to the young children of a divorced mother who suffers catastrophic injuries in an accident when she is in her early 30s? If she has attended to estate planning and chosen to make a living will, the care of the children may already be planned.

Such a tragic event can happen to anybody, and without plans in place, the children could go into foster care or be left with a relative who may not have been the first choice. Furthermore, the legal system can hold up a parent's life savings for years, rather than making it available for the care of the children. As part of estate planning, an advanced directive can tell doctors what medical care a patient wants or does not want -- regardless of whether it is due to an accident or because of a terminal illness. 

Also called living wills, advanced directives can include durable powers of attorney for medical decisions or health care when the patient cannot make those decisions, and also a financial power of attorney. This has nothing to do with a last will and testament, which only becomes effective upon a person's death. Living wills are what the name indicates; it informs others of the individual's wishes while he or she is still alive but unable to carry out those wishes.

A living will is a legal document that serves as a written testimony of preferences in particular circumstances. Medical directives can state wishes to doctors and care providers and even indicate whether the person wants to be resuscitated, kept alive by machines or other choices.  can be appointed as a power of attorney, such as a spouse, a sibling or a trusted friend. Living wills can be drafted as part of estate plans with the support and guidance of an experienced New Jersey estate planning attorney.

Source:, "Who will speak for you when you can't speak for yourself?", Karri Gruner, Accessed on Aug. 4, 2017

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