Preparing an Advance Directive Should Be a Priority
Does your family know what your wishes are for your health care should you become unable to direct that care? An advance directive provides caregivers with information about what kinds of treatment you do or do not want in an emergency, in the event you are unable to make those decisions.
Why are Advance Directives So Important?
A Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA-HC) is a legal document that names someone to make health care decisions for you, should you be unable to direct that care. It does not necessarily need to be prepared by a lawyer, but it does have legal requirements to be valid.
“Having a power of attorney for health care is one of the most important documents related to your health,” said Hope McPeake, APNP, a hospitalist at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton. “We tend to think of such documents as needed by older people, but it is truly recommended for anyone over 18 years of age. Parents are accustomed to being able to make health care decisions for/with their children. Once their son or daughter turns 18, parents lose that authority.”
Parents are accustomed to being able to make health care decisions for/with their children. Once their son or daughter turns 18, parents lose that authority.”
If someone is admitted to the hospital and cannot make decisions about their care, it is important to have the document in place.
“In absence of a POA-HC, legal guardianship may need to be established before we can provide certain treatments,” said McPeake. “That can become a very costly legal process and can end up with someone unknown to the patient or his/her family making decisions about that individual’s health care, which may affect their life from that point moving forward.”
How Can I Involve My Family in the Process?
McPeake stressed that in addition to having the legal document it’s also important to communicate your wishes to your family.
“There’s rarely a whole family who agrees about ‘what mom would want’ when they are in the midst of a critical care situation,” she said. “That’s why we are encouraging families to have these conversations when everyone’s gathered together for the holidays or other family events. It’s critical that everyone understands what their loved ones wishes are.”
She added that it’s the responsibility of the POA-HC to make decisions according to the wishes of the person they are representing, not their own personal wishes.
McPeake explained there are a number of resources available in the Fox Valley to assist families. ThedaCare hosts advance planning sessions on the third Thursday of every month at Encircle Health, 2500 E. Capital Drive, Appleton, from 5:00-6:30 p.m. in its first floor conference room. The classes provide information about why advance planning matters and help participants complete their power of attorney for health care.
What is the Process for Completing an Advance Directive?
The ThedaCare Advance Care Planning team offers these guidelines for preparing an Advance Directive; copies are available at your physician’s office and can be downloaded from the Policies and Legal Forms page on thedacare.org.
- You do not need a lawyer to complete the form, and it should not be notarized.
- All pages of the document must be kept together, even if they are optional. (Missing pages make the document invalid.)
- Do not cross out any mistakes. Do not write on the document after it is signed.
- All signature dates need to match.
- You will need two witnesses to sign, meeting the following criteria:
- 18 or older
- Not a family member by blood, marriage or adoption
- Not anyone who will benefit from your estate. Cannot be your POA-HC.
- Not your health care provider (doctor, nurses, etc.).
- Can be a social worker or chaplain
“Having a completed POA-HC is really a gift to our families at a critical time, especially if the family members have talked through what they would want in such situations,” said McPeake. “Having had the conversation makes it easier to make decisions with more confidence.”