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New Jersey Creates New End-of-Life Planning Mechanism

Earlier this week, Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill that would create a new end-of-life planning mechanism for terminally ill New Jersey residents.

The document, called "Physican Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment" or "POLST," is already available in 30 states.

Unlike traditional living wills, which are usually drafted when the individual is still in good health, POLST is designed to be used by individuals who are afflicted with a terminal or life-limiting illness.

The document will allow individuals to specify how they wish to be cared for in their final days. For example, terminally ill individuals will be able to specify whether they wish to pursue aggressive life-saving treatment or simply be kept comfortable so they can pass in peace.

To be valid, a POLST form must be signed by the individual's attending physician or advanced practice nurse. Unlike a traditional living will, the POLST form becomes an official part of the individual's medical record. It follows the individual wherever he or she receives medical treatment, be it in a healthcare facility, home or hospice center.

A POLST form is fully amendable. Individuals can change their wishes at any time and are free to request medical treatment different from what is on the POLST form. Further, individuals can grant a representative the ability to modify or revoke the POLST form in the event the individual becomes incapacitated.

POLST not a Substitute for Traditional Estate Planning

Although the POLST form is a good addition to New Jersey's end-of-life planning options, it should not be viewed as a substitute for a living will or other estate planning mechanisms.

For example, if you are incapacitated by a sudden accident, you may not have the opportunity to complete a POLST form. If you do not have a living will, you may not get the treatment you desire.

Further, the POLST form does not do anything to direct how your assets should be distributed if you pass. For that, you will need to have drafted a will or set up a trust.

Nobody likes to think about the end of their life, but it is important to plan. It is better to be prepared than to be treated in a way you would not have chosen.

Source: NJ Spotlight, "For Terminally Ill, New Law Gives Final Say on Medical Care," Beth Fitzgerald, Dec. 22, 2011

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