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Living Wills for all…in La Crosse, WI

Living Will

NPR recently published an interesting and unique piece, entitled “The Town Where Everyone Talks About Death“. Something out of a Stephen King novel, perhaps?

Despite the ominous and morbid sounding title, the article and accompanying radio story is actually about how Bud Hammes, a medical ethicist at a hospital in La Crosse, has encouraged local citizens to discuss end of life care with family and health care providers and to complete advanced medical directives.

What has been the result of this special attention and effort? The article claims that:

“Some 96 percent of people who die in La Crosse have an advance directive or similar documentation. Nationally, only about 30 percent of adults have a document like that.”

The report doesn’t specify exactly what documentation is referenced here, but it appears that it involves Wisconsin’s version of a Living Will (which can be found here).

Wisconsin’s Living Will is similar in nature, though not identical, to the Illinois Living Will (which can be found here).

Comparing the two forms, I actually prefer Wisconsin’s check-the-box approach in that it’s clearer with respect to wishes regarding feeding tubes for those with a ‘terminal condition’.

While this is an important discussion and document to consider, a Living Will is not the only advanced medical directive.

I advise clients that a Living Will can supplement but should not be a substitute for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document addresses not only end of life care, but also allows you to appoint an agent (and successor agents) to speak on your behalf if you’re unable to make medical care decisions for yourself for any reason. Your designated agent is able to ask questions, demand answers, obtain documents — act as your advocate.

96% is good, but I’m happy to report that just about 100% of our estate planning clients have executed a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. And you should too.

What do YOU think about the push for Living Wills in La Crosse and the consequences discussed in the NPR article? Feel free to leave a comment* below.

* commenting will be enabled for all posts going forward as they were several month back — and will remain that way unless I’m unable to successfully ward off the robo-spammers.


  1. Bob Steffen says:

    I have a feeling that having the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is as close as we’re going to get to self determination for our final years in Illinois.

    Personally, I’d rather be closer to Oregon’s laws.

  2. Kathy Ponce says:

    As a health care professional, I find that the Illinois Living Will is the most appropriate document for those who feel strongly that they DO NOT want their lives to be prolonged artificially if they are seriously ill with little or no hope of recovery, AND they DO NOT have a close relative or friend that they would like to appoint as a spokesperson in the event that they become unable to speak for themselves with regard to desired medical care.

    If people have a close friend or relative whom they trust with making their medical decisions in the event of their being unable to speak for themselves, the IL Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is the most effective type of Advance Directive.

    Though it’s difficult to discuss the possibility of not being able to speak for ourselves or to acknowledge our mortality, HAVING THE CONVERSATION WITH A TRUSTED LOVED ONE ABOUT THE TYPE AND AMOUNT OF MEDICAL CARE THAT WE WANT is critical to ensure that our wishes will be respected.

    It’s important that those who have an IL Living Will and/or an IL Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care give a copy to their primary doctor and make sure that every time they enter a hospital they bring along a copy of the document (s)

    Though both the Illinois Living Will and Illinois Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care are legal documents, it is not necessary to have an attorney draw them up. Forms can be obtained on line or at any Illinois hospital, and witnesses’ signatures do not have to be notarized.

    • Jeffrey R. Gottlieb says:

      Great insight, Kathy, thanks! One note: the Illinois Living Will does require two witness signatures and the new (as of July 2011) Illinois POA for Health Care requires one witness and a notary.

      • Kathy Ponce says:

        Notarization, and specimen signatures remain optional, even after the 2011 revision.

        (NOTE: You may, but are not required to, notarize your executed Power of
        Attorney, request your agent and successor agents to provide specimen signatures,
        and identify the name, if any, of the preparer who assisted you in completing this
        form, as provided below. If you include specimen signatures in this power of
        attorney, you must complete the certification opposite the signatures of the agents;
        you may also have the notary certify the correctness of agent signatures.)

        • Jeffrey R. Gottlieb says:

          You’re right, Kathy, I stand corrected. We include a notary as a best practice, but the POA for Health Care form requires only one witness but no notary. The POA for Property, however, requires two witnesses plus a notary. Thanks for the clarification.