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    Inside the Bar: Don't Make Decisions While You're Circling the Drain

    "A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs" helps you plan before a crisis.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 78, No. 11, November 2005

    Don't Make Decisions While You're Circling the Drain

    This holiday season, present your family with the gift of peace of mind by planning ahead for your health needs. Do it now while you're able. Do it before you're in a crisis situation.

    by org gbrown wisbar George C. Brown
    State Bar executive director

BrownThe winter holidays are rapidly approaching. During this time many of us turn our thoughts to gift-giving. If your thoughts have yet to turn that way, there are thousands of retailers encouraging your thinking in their direction. Let me remind you of another form of giving to your family: planning ahead for your health needs.

    In 1999, then-State Bar President Leonard Loeb reminded the bar of the tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents who have not made legal plans to deal with their future health needs. Some people find the issue disturbing, and so wish to ignore it. Others have simply given it no thought. Some people wish to make plans, but find the process intimidating.

    Under President Loeb's leadership, the State Bar teamed up with the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Health & Hospital Association to create "A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs," a consumer guide to educate people about the issues surrounding advance directives, health care agents, and organ and tissue donation. The 24-page guide includes several easy-to-complete forms, with instructions, including a power of attorney for health care form and a living will form. (A Spanish-language version of the guide will be available by mid-2006.) The three associations joined together to distribute the first 20,000 copies free to the public.

    Today, the guide is in its sixth edition and nearly 175,000 print copies have been distributed beyond the first 20,000 copies - and that's in addition to the thousands of guides downloaded free from WisBar and LegalExplorer, the Bar's consumer Web site. Several health care institutions, including Dean Health, Meriter Hospital, Luther Midelfort, and Lakeview, provide the guides to their patients. Recently, American Family Insurance distributed 15,000 copies to its agents to give to insureds.

    Recently, I was talking to a friend about issues that middle-aged men face, including caring for our aging parents. I mentioned "A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs" to him and he said he wished he'd had it several months ago. Both of his parents are still alive, but his dad has been quite ill with cancer. His dad, a stubborn man, never wanted to talk about life's eventualities except to say that things should just take their natural course. When my friend's dad suffered a serious heart attack, the doctor asked my friend what the family wanted to do.

    My friend turned to his father. "Dad, we're circling the drain here. What do you want to do?" His dad decided he wanted to live, and he is well on the mend. Today, my friend's father and mother both have advance directives, as do my friend and his wife. As my friend said, "It's only fair to do this for your family."

    To order copies of "A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs" for yourself or your clients, call the State Bar of Wisconsin at (800) 728-7788 or visit www.wisbar.org.