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Do you have a plan?

Do you have a plan in place if a sudden illness or injury left you unable to speak for yourself? Just imagine what might happen to you if you were not able to make your own financial or health care related decisions. That's why preparing and signing advanced directives and powers of attorney is so important. What are these documents and why should you have them?

In Wisconsin, if you are unable to make your own health care decisions, someone else must step in to speak for you. You can take the opportunity to name your own representative with an advance care directive.

It’s  important for Wisconsin residents to have an advance directive in place because Wisconsin is not a next-of-kin state. This means if you experience an illness or injury that leaves you unable to communicate, family members cannot make health care decisions for you unless you have specified a health care agent in an advance directive.

Advance care planning starts with a conversation between you and your loved ones about preferences for future medical decisions, including end-of-life care. These discussions can seem overwhelming, but a little planning allows peace of mind now and a less stressful time if you need care.

A life event may change the way you plan for future care. Advance care planning is a process shaped by the person’s life experiences, so it is important to continue the conversation throughout life's changes.

Advance care planning answers questions like:

  • Whom do I want to speak for me?
  • What do I want that person to know about my values and wishes?
  • How can I give that person legal authority to make decisions for me?

The answers can help you complete an advance directive and formalize a plan, and then share it with your health care agent and physician, and discuss it with family and friends.

Advance care planning is important for persons age 18 and older. Without a conversation and a document (advance directive) giving authority for someone to make medical decisions on your behalf, your loved ones will be left not knowing, and may not be able to legally make health care decisions.
Advance directives are legal documents that explain how you want medical decisions about you made if you cannot make the decisions yourself.  The Power of Attorney for  Health Care (POAGC) is one type of advanced directive. This document allows an individual, called the "principal," to designate another person as his or her "health care agent" for making health care decisions on his or her behalf if the principal cannot due  to their "incapacity."     

The POAHC is activated when two medical professionals that are defined in the document have examined the principal and sign a Statement of Incapacity indicating that the principal can no longer make his or her own health care decisions. Anyone who is 18 years or older and of sound mind should consider completing a POAHC.

In addition, Powers of Attorney for Finances or Durable Powers of Attorney are legal documents that allow you to plan for future financial decision-making even if you are unable to make your own decisions. Here, authority is granted to an “agent” to act in the place of the “principal” with respect to certain powers such as buying or selling property, banking, paying bills or even signing up for, changing, or terminating a health insurance policy.

These documents are typically effective at the time they are signed or executed, unless the principal provides in the power of attorney that it becomes effective at a future date or upon the occurrence of a future event. By signing this document, you are not giving up any powers or rights to control your finances or property, but are giving your agent the authority to handle your finances and property.

It is important for Security Health Plan members to have both a Power of Attorney for Finances and a Power of Attorney for Health Care when it comes to Security Health Plan staff providing quality case management and customer service to those agents our members have authorized to act on their behalf. Without executing and sharing both these important legal forms with Security Health Plan, it becomes difficult to address the health care needs of our members who cannot care for themselves. At the time of enrollment with Security Health Plan, providing signed copies of both these legal documents will allow Security Health Plan to serve the needs of our members more efficiently and effectively.

While we all hope to live a long healthy life, a time may come when we need to make decisions in a medical crisis. Start the discussion now and have one less worry. Advance care planning facilitators can present information to you and help engage in this important aspect of your health care by helping you start to think about your health care wishes in advance.

Marshfield Clinic patients can work with an advance care planner at no cost. Visit www.marshfieldclinic.org/patient-resources/advance-directives for more information.