Most people want their wishes to be known about what type of care they want, who they want to be responsible for carrying out their wishes, or how they want their belongings to be handled should something happen to them. This information is relayed through various legal, health care and financial documents and resources, including:
- Advance directives – Advance directives are a combination of documents that tell your doctor what kind of care you would like to receive if you become unable to make medical decisions; it usually includes a living will and name a health care proxy.
There are three types of advance directives:
- Proxy Directive (also called a durable power of attorney for health care): names a health care representative, such as a family member or friend, to make health care decisions on your behalf.
- Instruction Directive (also called a Living Will): states what kinds of medical treatments you would accept or reject in certain situations
- Combined Directive: lets you name a health care representative (proxy), and also informs that person and the medical team of your treatment wishes.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) - A DNR is an order which can be included in a living will, that requests that health care professionals not use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you cease breathing.
- Elder law attorneys - Lawyers who are specifically educated to handle a broad aspect of seniors’ legal needs are called elder law attorneys. They often assist their clients with estate planning, wills, guardianship, planning for retirement or long-term health care planning.
- Living will - tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make medical decisions due to a coma, cognitive impairment or other illness from which you are unlikely to recover; it includes information on treatments you may not want, such as a feeding tube or ventilator for artificial breathing
- Guardianship – Guardianship is a legal process by which a professional person is court-appointed to represent someone who is unable to handle their own personal interests and does not have a responsible, trusted person to do so, such as a power of attorney. Guardianship happens for a variety of reasons, such as when the person has no family to help or their caregiver has exploited or abused them. Court appointed guardians act on behalf of the person and are involved with handling their housing, medical treatment and finances. Since guardianship often removes many rights of the individual, it is often considered only after alternative routes are proven to be ineffective interventions.
- Living will – This legal document tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make medical decisions due to a coma, cognitive impairment or other illness from which you are unlikely to recover. It includes information on treatments you may not want, such as a feeding tube or ventilator for artificial breathing.
- Medical power of attorney or health care proxy - This allows you to appoint a person you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so. It is important to discuss your care wishes with the person you select because they will be asked to carry out those wishes in the event you are incapacitated.
- Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) – POLST is a medical order that is filled out with a physician or advance practice nurse and details your personal wishes regarding end-of-life care. The POLST is designed for those nearing the end of life and outlines goals of care, such as personal goals or family milestones you want to reach, and it also outlines preferences for resuscitation, ventilation and the scope of medical interventions. The POLST is also unique because it is valid and transferrable across all settings, including the hospital, healthcare facility and home. For more information about POLST, speak with your health care provider.
- Power of attorney - This defines a person (or persons) that you name to act on your behalf to handle your finances or property. Many people also name their power of attorney as their health care proxy or medical power of attorney.
- Will - A Will is a legal document that outlines how you want your estate, including property and belongings, to be distributed after your death; it is possible to write your will yourself, however, most people choose to have an attorney’s assistance to avoid any legal mistakes.
The Healthy Aging Program at Atlantic Health System suggests the following helpful resources to assist seniors with health care, legal and financial needs:
American Association of Daily Money Managers
This national association provides a directory of member daily money managers to help seniors with bill paying, document organization and record keeping.
American Bar Association
Community Health Law Project
Cornerstone Family Programs – Senior Cents
Five Wishes is an online resource to help arrange for legal advance directives in more than 40 states. It outlines what health care providers and loved ones need to know and is written to help structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness.
Friend Advocate Program – Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey
Goals of Care
Goals of Care is a New Jersey organization that functions as a partnership program to unite private and public organizations interested in improving geriatric clinical decision making in New Jersey. Goals of Care helped implement POLST in New Jersey and provides information and resources for advocacy and education.
Legal Services of New Jersey
Morris County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. (NAELA)
National Guardianship Association, Inc.
National POLST Paradigm
National resource for POLST information and education
New Jersey Department of the Treasury – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
VITA offers free tax assistance and preparation services to taxpayers with low to moderate incomes, individuals with disabilities and non-English speaking taxpayers.
SAGE Eldercare’s Bill Paying Service
Volunteers assist people age 60 and older who are able to make responsible decisions about their financial affairs but who may be physically impaired, have a debilitating illness, or have recently lost their spouse who was the sole manager of the household finances. Open to residents of Northern Union County, Millburn, Short Hills & Chatham.
Somerset County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service
Somerset County Office of Volunteer Services
Money MAP (Management Assistance Program) uses trained, supervised, and screened volunteers to provide money management and bill payer assistance to older adults in Somerset County who are either unable to manage their own financial affairs or who just need some help keeping track of financial matters and paying routine bills.
Union County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service
Warren County Division of Aging & Disability Services
Money MAP (Management Assistance Program) uses trained, supervised, and screened volunteers to provide money management and bill payer assistance to older adults in Warren County who are either unable to manage their own financial affairs or who just need some help keeping track of financial matters and paying routine bills.