By Theresa Pichelmeyer, RN, EdD, President and CEO, Valley VNA Senior Care

and Ellen Koski, MPH, CPH, Director, Fox Valley Advance Care Planning Partnership


National Health Care Decisions Day is April 16, a day to educate and empower people about the importance of advance care planning. The Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA-HC) is a document where you, an adult, name a trusted person (your “agent”) to voice your health care decisions if you become unable to do so yourself. The POA-HC, sometimes called a living will, is where you express your preferences about pain control, location of care, and other issues that matter to you.

Know the Facts

The “next of kin” idea does not apply in Wisconsin. A family member or spouse is not automatically authorized to make certain health care decisions for you unless you name that person in your POA-HC. This applies to anyone over age 18.

Your family may have to go to court to appoint a guardian for you without a POA-HC in place. This process can be costly, time-consuming, cumbersome, and emotionally draining— and the court-appointed guardian may not be the person you would choose.

It’s not just about care at the end of life. For an elderly person, advance care planning can help express wishes about the process of death. For others, it can help them recover from a health crisis in the spirit and manner they choose.

To determine if an agent needs to step in, two health care providers must first certify that you can no longer communicate your health care wishes. If and when you return to health, this can be lifted. You can also update your POA-HC at any time to change your agent, your wishes, or specific instructions.

Choose your agent carefully. He or she may be called upon to make very important decisions for you regarding choosing your doctors, where you receive care, treatment decisions, and consenting to or refusing surgery. You must be confident your agent will follow your wishes, even in the midst of pressure from others. He or she should be capable of dealing with hospitals, doctors, and stressful situations. Thoughtfully make your choices and share them with your loved ones, especially your agent. It can make a big difference in a crisis.

Did You Know?

All adults age 18+ need a POA-HC—including High School Seniors and College Students!

Did you think a POA-HC was just for older people? Think about a few situations where any adult might need a POA-HC:

  • A car, ATV, or snowmobile accident that leaves you in a coma
  • A prolonged bad reaction to a drug
  • An injury sustained in a violent crime
  • A life-threatening stroke, progressive disease, or severe flu
  • An emergency surgery such as a C-section

Complete Your POA-HC. It’s Free!

  • Visit the Fox Valley Advance Care Planning Partnership (FVACPP) website to download the form and access trained facilitators who can help you for free.
  • Tell your loved ones about your wishes.
  • Deliver your completed POA-HC to your doctor’s office or ask FVACPP for assistance. Keep a copy for yourself and your agent.