Tough Conversations

Benjamin Franklin has famously said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” These two depressing topics always seem to go together.

April 16, the day after the deadline for filing taxes, is National Healthcare Decisions Day. Because death and taxes go hand-in-hand, NHDD was established on April 16 to remind people that when they’re thinking about their taxes, they should also be thinking about their end-of-life wishes.

NHDD was created in 2008 by Nathan Kottkamp, a health care attorney from Virginia, to provide clear and concise information on advance care planning to both the public and to health care providers and facilities. The National Institute of Health is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and it defines advance care planning as discussing and preparing for future decisions about medical care if you become seriously ill or unable to communicate your wishes.

The NIH stresses that having meaningful conversations with loved ones is the most important part of advance care planning. This is followed up by putting preferences in writing by completing legal documents called advance directives.

Advance directives are legal documents that provide instructions for medical care and only go into effect if you cannot communicate your own wishes. The two most common advance directives for health care are Declarations to Physicians, sometimes called Living Wills, and Health Care Powers of Attorney.

A Declaration to Physicians allows you to inform your doctor whether or not you want a feeding tube or life-sustaining procedures used if you are in a persistent vegetative state or have a terminal condition.

A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone, along with backups, to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make those decisions on your own. Wisconsin is not a ‘next of kin’ state, meaning spouses, children, parents, etc. do not have the automatic right to make medical decisions for us – we have to bestow this authority upon them in a HCPOA.

NHDD was founded to educate the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. It also encourages people to express their wishes regarding healthcare and memorialize those wishes by completing advance directives. In addition, NHDD aims to urge providers and facilities to respect those wishes.

Shockingly, an estimated 80% of Wisconsin residents (including 50% of those with severe or terminal illnesses) have not completed an advance directive documenting their wishes. To avoid being one of these statistics, you can download Wisconsin’s Declaration to Physicians and Health Care Power of Attorney forms from the State Department of Health Services website.

In addition, you can also download from the State Bar’s website ‘A Gift to Your Family,’ a guidebook which offers practical insights on a range of issues surrounding end-of-life care and treatment decisions, and additional information about powers of attorney for health care, living wills, and organ and tissue donation.

Local providers Ascension, Mosaic Family Health and ThedaCare, offer free weekly advance care planning classes. In addition, the Fox Valley Advance Care Planning Partnership supports people in our community with completing their plans. They can be reached online at or at (920) 832-2783.

So, please celebrate NHDD this year by discussing your wishes with your family and getting advance directives in place.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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