April 16th is National Health Care Decisions Day

1. Always check the appropriate box. Checking the box “yes” to admission to a nursing home/community based-residential facility or withhold/withdraw feeding tubes does not indicate a desire for placement or sustenance, but grants specific authority to your designated agent to legally authorize or make decisions regarding placement or sustenance. Without the box checked “yes” families often find themselves in a guardianship proceeding even though they planned ahead by executing their Health Care Power of Attorney because it is not complete.

2. There is a difference between a Living Will (in Wisconsin known as a “Declaration to Physicians”) and a Health Care Power of Attorney. The former directs your physician to withhold/withdraw feeding or terminate life support in the event the individual suffers from a terminal illness or is in a persistent vegetative state. The later designates an agent to make decisions, in collaboration with your physician, including end of life decisions as well as any other decision which needs to be made while you are unable to communicate for any reason.

With a well-executed Health Care Power of Attorney, ultimately your designated agent makes the health care decisions for you. Many Health Care Power of Attorney forms provide a list of “wishes” or statements pertaining to the type of healthcare you think you would want when the time comes. While leaving a set of written instructions can be good, my opinion is that it is not as valuable as face-to-face conversations with your potential agent.

It is nearly impossible to think of and address every possible situation, which might leave an individual unable to communicate his/her health care wishes. For this reason, having conversations with your loved ones ahead of time as to your thoughts regarding various topics will allow your agent to make more informed choices with the facts presented.

There are many resources available to help you start this conversation: your attorney, your physician or online through websites like Consider the Conversation or Aging with Dignity.

Finally, I cannot stress enough that the designation of an agent to make your health care decisions is important for every legal adult, not just the elderly. At any time, any one of us could have an accident or illness that leaves us unable to make our own decisions. For example, your 18-year-old child is in a car accident. You’re contacted as the next of kin, but when it is time to decide on the treatment for your child you are told that he/she is a legal adult and without a court order you have no decision-making authority.

Another example is if your 40-year-old spouse were to suddenly become ill. Would you have the time to take care of him/her, other family members, work and attend Court hearings in order to be granted the ability to make decisions on their behalf? The Health Care Power of Attorney is a simple document that can make a difficult situation much less stressful.

In Celebration of National Health Care Decisions Day this April 16th, please remember your loved ones. Complete a Health Care Power of Attorney form and have a conversation with them as to your thoughts and wishes related to Health Care and end of life decisions.