Advanced Directives: Making Hard Times a Little Easier

by Jessica Worek, Transition of Care Coordinator

It can be difficult to think about what kind of healthcare you want if you become unable to make healthcare decisions yourself. But, it is better to make your wishes known now while you are still able to. If you don’t make a plan now, if the time comes, it can be difficult for your loved ones (and expensive).

Regardless of a person’s health, it is recommended that anyone over the age of 18 and of “sound mind’ complete an advanced directive.  An advanced directive is a legal document which allows you to plan ahead and communicate your wishes to family and friends about your healthcare when you are no longer able to communicate your wishes yourself.  There are several common questions that come up when talking about advanced directives.

What is the difference between an advanced directive, living will, and power of attorney for health care?

An advanced directive touches on the same topics as a living will and power of attorney for health care, but it is more specific and is more detailed. Some of the topics these forms cover include who your healthcare agent is (who will make decisions for you if you are unable) and what they can decide on your behalf, what your preferences are regarding things like feeding tubes, CPR, and being placed in a nursing home. If you decide to only complete one of these forms, an advanced directive would be the recommended form since it is more detailed and thorough.

If I complete an advanced directive, power of attorney for health care, or living will, does that mean I am no longer able to make my own health care decisions?

Those forms do not take effect until you are unable to make your own decisions (also called a “finding of incapacity”). A “finding of incapacity” is determined by two physicians or one physician and one licensed psychologist who have personally examined you and sign a statement of incapacity. Old age, eccentricity, or physical disability are not reasons for a finding of incapacity.

What if I change my mind and want to change my advanced directive, power of attorney for health care, or living will?

As long as a person is of “sound mind” they are able to create new paperwork at any time.

What happens if I am no longer able to make my own medical decisions and I don’t have an advanced directive, power of attorney for health care or living will?

If you have not filled out one of the forms, families may need to look into getting a court appointed guardian, which can be a lengthy and expensive process. That is why it is highly recommended that anyone over the age of 18 and of “sound mind” complete these forms.

Do I need to see an attorney when completing these forms?

No, these forms do not require an attorney.  They may be filled out on your own or with friends and family.  The forms do need to be signed in front of two witnesses who are not related to you, are over the age of 18, not directly responsible for your finances, not someone you appointed as your health care agent, and not an employee of a healthcare provider who is directly serving you.  In Wisconsin, social workers and chaplains may serve as witnesses in a healthcare setting.

Who should have copies of these forms?

It is important that your health care agent, family members, and facilities that provide medical care have copies of these forms.

Where can I get these forms?

You can print off these forms yourself at, or Southwest Health is happy to provide these for you.


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