A health care power of attorney is a legal document where you select one or more persons to act as your agent to make health care decisions for you.  It is important to note, however, that an agent generally does not have any authority to make medical decisions for you until you are unable to make decisions for yourself.  Therefore, you will continue to make health care decisions for yourself until either two physicians, or one physician and one psychologist, declare that you no longer have capacity to make health care decisions.

Within a health care power of attorney, you may include a list of treatment preferences and desires to help guide your agents in making health care decisions for you.  Within this document, you may permit an agent to admit you to a nursing facility or to withhold or withdraw medical treatment.  Additionally, you may express any personal desires as to whether you wish to donate any organs after death.  Generally, you are free to change or revoke your health care power of attorney at any time.

Although you are not required to create a health care power of attorney, it is a very important document because it allows you to specifically make your desires regarding health care treatment known to your family, friends, and health care providers.  It not only helps avoid conflict among family members, but it may also help avoid the need for a time consuming and expensive guardianship.

Many individuals make the mistake of assuming that a spouse or child automatically has authority to make health care decisions for them upon incapacity.  This assumption is incorrect.  In the absence of a legal document authorizing a loved one to make medical decisions, a guardian may need to be appointed.  Although the appointed guardian may be a spouse or child, the individual will need to be appointed by the Court.  Guardianship proceedings tend to be time consuming and expensive, but they can generally be avoided by having a properly executed health care power of attorney in place.

If you would like any further information on health care powers of attorney, please schedule a consultation with Sturgul & Long or contact one of the following entities:

Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups
2850 Dairy Dr., Suite 100
Madison, WI 53718
(608) 224-0606
(800) 366-2990
www.cwagwisconsin.org

Medical College of Wisconsin
Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities
8701 W. Watertown Plank Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
(414) 955-8498
www.mcw.edu

State Bar of Wisconsin
5302 Eastpark Boulevard
P.O. Box 7158
Madison, WI 53707-7158
(800) 728-7788
www.wisbar.org

Wisconsin Department of Health Services
1 West Wilson Street
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 266-1865
www.dhs.wisconsin.gov

Wisconsin Hospital Association
5510 Research Park Drive
P.O. Box 259038
Madison, WI 53725
(608) 274-1820
www.wha.org

Wisconsin Medical Society
Office of the General Counsel
330 East Lakeside Street
Madison, WI 53715
(866) 442-3800
www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org