Why You Need A Power Of Attorney For Health Care – And How To Get One – With Or Without A Lawyer

Why You Need A Power Of Attorney For Health Care - And How To Get One - With Or Without A Lawyer

Know Your Legal Rights – by Jill Lendu Johnson, MBA, Esq.

In Wisconsin, Healthcare Decisions Week runs from April 16-23, highlighting the importance of having a power of attorney (POA) for healthcare.

With this legal document, you specify who can make health care decisions for you if you are too ill or disabled to make those decisions for yourself.

Why this document is important

Perhaps the following story will encourage you to do this work. A few years ago, I was volunteering at a free legal clinic. A woman came in and told me her husband was in his 50s when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. He had no power of attorney for health care.

After he was released from hospital, she had to arrange care in a nursing home because he was permanently disabled. She was forced to go to court and get guardianship because she didn’t have the legal authority to make that decision, even though they were married.

Life lesson: It can be both expensive and time-consuming to arrange proper care for someone who does not have a power of attorney for health care.

Easy to complete on your own

Like many tasks in life, it’s easy to put off getting a power of attorney for health care. Luckily, it’s easy to make one. First, you select a healthcare worker and ensure that this person would be ready to fill the position if needed. If you are married, it is customary to designate your spouse as your health care agent.

You can also select another agent. The person you choose must be an adult and cannot be your healthcare provider or be employed by a healthcare facility where you are a patient. Also, your agent cannot be the spouse of any of these people unless they are a relative.

Forms available online

The Wisconsin State Department of Health Services provides the form online. https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives/index.htm

Be sure to read the instructions that accompany the form. You will need to sign the form in front of two witnesses and there are some rules about who can witness, so read on.

Who can witness

A witness must be at least 18 years old and cannot be related to you by blood, marriage or adoption. Also, a witness cannot be your health care agent or be responsible for paying your health care bills. A witness cannot be someone who is providing health care to you at the time you sign the document, nor can it be an employee of the health care provider.

An exception is made for a chaplain or social worker. They are good people to exploit as witnesses. A witness also cannot be an employee of an inpatient health care facility, but again, chaplains and social workers agree. Finally, a witness cannot claim any part of your estate.

When your form is complete

Keep the six pages of the Wisconsin POA for Health Care together. Keep a copy for yourself in a safe place and give a copy (again, all six pages) to anyone who provides health care to you.

This includes your dentist as well as your doctor and other health care providers. And finally, give a copy to the person you have chosen as your health care worker.

Where to get advice

If you need an attorney to help you, you can call the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the State Bar of Wisconsin, 800-362-9082, for a referral to an attorney in your area.

Additionally, from April 12 through April 24, the State Bar of Wisconsin is offering a free PDF guide titled “A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Care Needs.”

The guide includes practical information on a range of issues surrounding health care decisions, such as power of attorney for health care, living wills, and organ and tissue donation. The guide also includes state forms to help people put their wishes in writing. Visit www.wisbar.org.

Jill Lendu Johnson, MBA, Esq., owner of J. Johnson Law Group LLC, specializes in estate planning, probate and employment law. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin Lawyer Referral and Information Service, which connects Wisconsin residents with attorneys throughout the state. Learn more about wislaw.org.

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