There is no easy way to plan for future health care choices, but it is better to prepare—for yourself, and for those you love. Not sure where to start? We’re here to help.

Why Advance Care Planning?

Before we talk about how Advance Care Planning works, it’s important to talk about what it is and why it’s important.

Advance Care Planning is a process that involves thinking and talking about future health care choices. It allows your family and your care team to understand and comply with your preferences for medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. This process is critical to ensure your wishes are followed—and it provides much-needed peace of mind for your loved ones, so they are not left wondering what you would want during a difficult time. These can be tough conversations, but discussing and documenting your wishes now can prevent unnecessary uncertainty and conflict down the road.

How Do I Make My Wishes Known?

You can start planning by completing a legal document called an Advance Directive, including Power of Attorney for Health Care. Advance Directives are instructions that state your choices about health treatment and name someone to express those choices for you if you are no longer able to do so.

The questions in an Advance Directive document will help in the advance care planning process. Important considerations include:

• Long-term care choices

• The decision to refuse or remove a feeding tube or IV fluids

• Health care decisions during pregnancy

An Advance Directive may also include personal messages to your loved ones, comfort preferences, choices on CPR, donation of your organs or tissue and autopsy preference.

States’ legal requirements may differ, so it is important to complete the document for the state you live in. As a trained Advance Care Planning Facilitator through Respecting Choices Wisconsin, I assist patients with having important conversations with their loved ones regarding their wishes for future health care. I then capture those conversations and choices in an important legal document, called a Power of Attorney for Health Care. The Honoring Choices document allows you to be specific and personal to make sure your wishes are honored.

To make your document legal, it must be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses who meet the qualifications. To sign you must be of sound mind, agree with everything written in the document, and have completed the document of your free will.

What if My Wishes Change?

“Honoring Choices of Wisconsin” recommends reviewing and updating an Advance Directive whenever any of the “Five Ds” occur:

■Decade—when you start each new decade of your life.

■ Death (or Dispute)—when a loved one or health agent dies (or disagrees with your preferences).

■ Divorce—when divorce (or annulment) happens. If your spouse or domestic partner is your agent, your advance directive is no longer valid. You must complete a new advance directive, even if you want your ex-spouse or ex-partner to remain your agent.

■ Diagnosis—when you are diagnosed with a serious illness.

■ Decline—when your health gets worse, especially when you are unable to live on your own.

If your goals and preferences change:

■ Talk to your agent(s), your family, your doctor, and everyone who has copies of your advance directive.

■ Complete a new advance directive.

A little planning now can prevent a lot of confusion and heartache later on. Please complete your advance directive—and know we are here to help.

Diane Ries is a DFCC Community Member and a Case Manager, Social Worker with Bellin Health. For more information on Advance Care Planning, you may call her directly at the Bellin Health Marinette Clinic, 715-735-2181.