Advance Care Planning

It is important for adults of all ages to decide how their future health care decisions will be made before they are faced with a medical condition.  These health care decisions should be recorded in a legal document to ensure that individual wishes are honored and to protect the family from having to make life and death decisions without sufficient information about their loved one's wishes.

To plan for health care decisions, a person needs to:

  • Understand the kind of treatment choices available.
  • Understand the consequences of various alternatives.
  • Make and communicate a thoughtful choice.
  • Express values and goals.

The following information is not intended as legal advice.  Rather, it is a general summary of the rights of competent adults to make, or arrange for others to make, their health care decisions.  Our summary does not contain all the technical details of laws in each state, but is reflective of health care laws in this area.

In Wisconsin, two types of legal documents exist to indicate a person's wishes for end-of-life care.  Both are referred to as advance directives.  One document outlines the specific medical attention a person desires, while the other allows an individual to designate someone to make overall health care decisions for them.

Advance Directive forms vary from state to state and are available from the State of Wisconsin, at most hospitals and nursing homes, as well as from Unity.Click here to download the State of Wisconsin advance directive forms.

1. Declaration to Physician (Living Will)
A Declaration to Physician is a document that details a person's specific wishes about medical care in the event that the person has a terminal condition or is in a persistent vegetative state and is unable to express his or her wishes.  The declaration usually directs that the process of dying not be prolonged and that comfort be maintained while the illness takes its natural course.  The advantage of a declaration is that a person can be very specific about his or her wishes.  The disadvantage of this document is that it may not be inclusive of all health care circumstances and decisions.

2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOAHC)
This document allows a person to appoint someone as his or her health care agent and gives that agent the authority to make necessary health care decisions.  The State of Wisconsin allows a person to designate a primary and a secondary health care agent.  In creating a Power of Attorney for Health Care, a person should consider how he or she feels about certain health care and long-term care decisions and discuss choices with his or her agents.

A Power of Attorney for Health Care document gives the health care agent authority to make health care decisions only after the person has been declared as incapacitated by two physicians or a physician and a psychologist who have personally examined the patient.  After this process has been completed, the health care agent has the legal authority to make decisions for the patient.

Advantages: The DPOAHC document:

  • Can be flexible and tailored to an individual's wishes.
  • Can apply to most health care situations.
  • Honored anywhere in the state of Wisconsin.
  • Not limited to life prolonging issues but can also, for example, cover dentistry and invasive surgery.
  • Can be created by completing a standard state form or by an attorney.
  • Can be revoked or changed at any time as long as a person is mentally competent.
  • May eliminate the need, in certain situations, to pursue legal guardianship, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.
  • Encourages people to discuss their health care wishes with their appointed agents.

Note that the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care should not be confused with a Power of Attorney for Finances.  The financial power of attorney is a document that involves financial decisions only–not health care decisions.  Bank officials and attorneys are good sources for information about a Power of Attorney for Finances.

To learn more about local community events on Advance Care Planning, click here.