You can’t know the future, but you can prepare for it. These two legal documents will give you peace of mind and provide guidance for your loved ones.

Nobody likes to dwell on the possibility of a life-altering accident or illness. However, taking some time to plan ahead can help you feel more confident and secure about the future. You can rest easier knowing your wishes will be honored and your affairs taken care of.

In New Jersey, there are two key elements to preparing for the possibility of incapacity: an advance directive and a durable power of attorney.

Solidify your medical wishes with an advance directive

Also called a living will, an advance directive gives you a voice in the event that you become unable to speak for yourself. There are two parts to this important document:

  • An instruction directive details your wishes regarding medical care, artificial life-sustaining measures, palliative care, resuscitation efforts and any other health care decisions. You can outline what types of treatments you want as well as those you don't want - and under what circumstances.
  • A proxy directive (also called a durable power of attorney for health care) nominates a trusted friend or relative to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. This person will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. You can specify the scope of his or her authority and the circumstances under which that authority becomes valid.

With all aspects of advance directives, you have the ultimate say. You can make the document as specific or general as you like. You can have an instructive directive, a proxy directive or both.

Many people choose to have both (called a combined directive) because it's hard to anticipate every possible scenario in writing out your wishes. For that reason, you may feel more comfortable with the knowledge that your health care proxy - someone who knows you well and understands your values and priorities - will make decisions when you can't.

Take care of financial matters with a durable power of attorney

An advance directive covers your health care, but it does not apply to your financial affairs. For that, you need a durable power of attorney.

This critical document gives you the ability to choose who will manage your affairs in the event of your incapacity. It gives that person the legal authority to act on your behalf with regard to finances, property issues, housing and other important decisions.

As with an advance directive, you can tailor a power of attorney to fit your wishes. You can make it effective now or only upon your incapacity.

Why do you need these documents?

These documents will give your loved ones valuable guidance and legal authority should they need it. They will also help your loved ones avoid disagreements and costly legal proceedings. By preparing ahead - and covering all your bases - you can have peace of mind about the future.

Because you can change or revoke these documents at any time (so long as you're not incapacitated), there is no downside to implementing your wishes sooner rather than later.

Keywords: incapacity, estate planning, living will, advance directive, power of attorney, durable power of attorney, proxy, health care directive