Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is advance care planning?  
  2. What is an advance directive?
  3. What is a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (POAHC)?
  4. What is the difference between a POAHC and living will?
  5. Why should I have a power of attorney for healthcare?
  6. How do I complete a power of attorney for healthcare?
  7. What should I do with my power of attorney for healthcare when it is done?
  8. Who can be my healthcare agent?
  9. Does my agent need to live close by?
  10. What does it mean if I check ‘yes’ under agent authority for a nursing home?
  11. What does it mean if I check ‘yes’ under agent authority to withhold or withdraw a feeding tube and/or IV hydration?
  12. How can I learn more about tube feeding and IV hydration?
  13. How do I know what choice to make about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?
  14. How do I change my advance directive?
  15. What if I want to donate organs or tissue?
  16. Can I decide whether or not I want an autopsy performed on my body?
  17. How do I make my advance directive a legal document?
  18. When can my healthcare agent make my medical decisions?
  19. What should I do when I travel?
  20. Will my advance directive be followed in other states?
  21. Does my family already have authority to make my decisions for me?
  22. When should I update my power of attorney for healthcare?


1. What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning is a way to:

  • Make sure you receive the level of care you prefer – no more and no less.
  • Let others know what to do when you are too hurt or sick to express yourself.
  • Permit people you trust to act on your behalf.

Advance care planning should start with a conversation. Staff at Gundersen Health System can help you begin this process. [Return to Top]



2. What is an advance directive?

An advance directive is the end result of advance care planning. In most cases, it is a written legal document. Gundersen Health System encourages patients to complete a document called a power of attorney for healthcare. Other options could be writing a letter or talking about your future care with someone who records your wishes. [Return to Top]



3. What is a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (POAHC)?

This legal document allows you to appoint someone you trust to make your medical decisions if and when you become incapable. The person(s) you name will serve as your healthcare agent(s). You can also include instructions about what medical care you do and do not want in the future. The POAHC is the type of advance directive recommended by Gundersen Health System. [Return to Top]



4. What is the difference between a POAHC and living will?

A power of attorney for healthcare (POAHC) lets you appoint one or more healthcare agent(s) to make healthcare decisions when you are incapable. A living will does not let you name healthcare agent(s). It only records medical care you will allow when you are terminally ill or unlikely to be conscious again. [Return to Top]



5. Why should I have a power of attorney for healthcare?

This legal document is the best way to make sure your wishes are known and followed. Without it, your family or loved one(s) may not be able to make decisions on your behalf. They could be forced to:

  • Petition the courts for the right to decide.
  • Pay legal expenses.
  • Allow treatment they think you would not want.

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6. How do I complete a power of attorney for healthcare?

There are two ways to begin this process.

  1. Make an appointment to meet with a Gundersen staff member trained to lead discussion of future healthcare decisions. For this conversation, we recommend you bring the person(s) you are thinking of naming as healthcare agent(s).
  2. If you prefer, you can start the process right on this website. Click this link to see the POAHC form. You will also want to review information listed under Getting Started

Call (608) 775-1347 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 51347, to make an appointment (A) or ask a question while you work on your own (B). If you have a MyCare account, click the Advance Care Planning link under My Medical Record and choose from several options. [Return to Top]



7. What should I do with my power of attorney for healthcare when it is done?

  • Make a copy for each person you have listed as your healthcare agent.
  • Take a copy to the doctor’s office where you receive care.
  • Keep the original in a place where those close to you can find it.

If you are a Gundersen Health System patient, you can:

  • Fax to: (608) 775-3488
    Attention: HIM – Advance Directives
  • Mail to:
    Gundersen Health Information Management
    1900 South Ave., AVS-002
    La Crosse, WI 54601

Your POAHC will be scanned into your health record. Through MyCare, you can see the date it was added to your record. [Return to Top]



8. Who can be my healthcare agent?

He or she can be anyone you trust. You could choose a family member, close friend, neighbor, or religious leader. This person should be able to answer “yes” to all of these questions.

  • Am I willing to be a healthcare agent?
  • Do I know what you would want if you could make your own choices?
  • Can I make the choices even if I do not agree with them?
  • Am I able to make difficult healthcare choices even if I feel stressed and upset?

Each person you choose should be willing to talk about your values, goals and healthcare preferences. Your agent(s) should be prepared to honor your views and be your advocate when faced with difficult decisions. You cannot appoint any employee of a facility where you receive care unless the person is a close relative. Read more about the role of a healthcare agent. [Return to Top]



9. Does my agent need to live close by?

No. In most cases a healthcare facility can contact your agent in a timely fashion. To ensure this, keep phone numbers for your agent(s) up to date. [Return to Top]



10. What does it mean if I check ‘yes’ under agent authority for a nursing home?

This gives your agent authority to make decisions about nursing home admission. It does not express your wishes for or against going to a nursing home. If you select “no” a judge would appoint a legal guardian to decide where you will go. This causes extra expense and rarely changes the outcome. [Return to Top]



11. What does it mean if I check ‘yes’ under agent authority to withhold or withdraw a feeding tube and/or IV hydration?

This gives your agent authority to decide whether you should have a feeding tube or IV placed or removed. It does not express your wishes for or against tube feeding or IV hydration. You can state your wishes in your advance directive. Your choice to have a feeding tube or IV can vary throughout your lifetime. [Return to Top]



12. How can I learn more about tube feeding and IV hydration?

A choice you make in good health could change if you contract a serious illness. To learn more about this choice, we suggest you read Long-Term Tube Feeding: Is it Right for Me? [Return to Top]



13. How do I know what choice to make about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?

Click on this link CPR Facts: What you should know. This information can help you decide if you want CPR when your heart or lungs stop working. The time to choose is when you feel well and have the facts you need. After you learn more, talk to your doctor or care provider about what is best for you. [Return to Top]



14. How do I change my advance directive?

There are several types of changes you might need to make. One is to update contact information for your healthcare agent(s). If you only want to change a phone number or an address, let us know through MyCare, during an office visit, or by calling (608) 775-1347 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 51347. We will update the contact information in your medical record.

To change healthcare agent name(s) or provide new instructions, you must complete a new advance directive (POAHC). [Return to Top]



15. What if I want to donate organs or tissue?

Stating your wishes about organ and tissue donation is optional. An advance directive is one place to express your feelings or values about organ and tissue donation. Knowing what you want can help your family confidently respond should this question arise. [Return to Top]



16. Can I decide whether or not I want an autopsy performed on my body?

Yes, you can state your wishes about autopsy in your advance directive. [Return to Top]



17. How do I make my advance directive a legal document?

After you complete your power of attorney for healthcare, sign it in the presence of two witnesses. The date of your signature and theirs must be the same. (Note: The witness page of your advance directive form lists the criteria for who can witness.) You may bring your document to Gundersen Health System for witnessing. [Return to Top]



18. When can my healthcare agent make my medical decisions?

Agents can only make your healthcare decisions if you are unable to decide for yourself. How this is decided varies from state to state. In Wisconsin, either two doctors or a doctor and a psychologist must agree you are incapable. In Iowa and Minnesota, incapacity is determined by one doctor. [Return to Top]



19. What should I do when I travel?

  • Carry a wallet card that tells health professionals you have a power of attorney for healthcare and where it is on file.
  • You can choose to carry a copy of your advance directive with you.

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20. Will my advance directive be followed in other states?

Most states recognize valid advance directives from other states. If you have an advance directive from another state, show it to your healthcare provider. He or she can help you find out if it is valid where you now receive medical care. If you plan to reside in a new state, think about completing a new advance directive that will be valid there. [Return to Top]



21. Does my family already have authority to make my decisions for me?

Family members are not automatically granted the right to make healthcare decisions for you. This varies from state to state. Laws in the state where you receive treatment can affect who is allowed to make treatment decisions for you. The only way to be sure a family member can make healthcare choices on your behalf is to name him or her as a healthcare agent in your POAHC. [Return to Top]



22. When should I update my power of attorney for healthcare?

Review it every 5 to 10 years or if there is a significant change in your life. Think of “The five D’s” as a guide to when to update.

  • Decade
  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Diagnosis
  • Decline

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Helpful Links

Additional Assistance

  • Spiritual Care
    (608) 775-1347 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 51347
  • Advance Care Planning Coordinator
    (608) 775-6000 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 56000
  • Gundersen Onalaska Clinic Social Services
    (608) 775-7910 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 57910
  • Or call the Gundersen Clinic or Affiliate in your community.
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