Madison: Melissa Lapin is a social worker at St. Mary's Hospital, so she has seen what happens when family members don't leave clear instructions about their end of life decisions. "It can be very difficult. Lots of times I'll just sit with the family member and they may be crying and struggling with what decision should I make."
Lapin says sometimes the best legacy you can leave is a clear decision for what you want done if you can't communicate and are in a persistent vegetative state–like Terry Schiavo. "The power of attorney tells people who you want to make decisions. The living will says these are the kind of decisions I want made for me."
Everybody who is checked into the hospital gets counseled on this guide to living wills and designating a power of attorney.
Lapin estimates only 30% of all patients fill out the form, but Terry Schiavo is changing that. "Many people will say, 'I want to get this advanced directive done.' They'll mention they've seen information about Terry Schiavo and the situation she and her family are going through."
Dan Purtell is an estate planning attorney with the Wilson Law Group.
He says the Schiavo case comes up all the time. "The reaction is quite typically I want to be able to have happen what my wishes are. I don't want the courts to decide."
Purtell says anyone with power of attorney can overrule your living will, but the latest government intervention could be changing precedent. "It's a big concern. My attitude is I would rather not have Congress coming in to trump a state court."
Lapin says the best way to avoid problems on your deathbed is to communicate ahead of time. "Its always been such a gift to families when there is an advanced directive or there is a discussion ahead of time."
St. Mary's offers a free class on living wills and end of life decisions every Monday afternoon at 12:30.
And hospice care is providing a free advance directives workshop April 6th at the Don and Marilyn Anderson HospiceCare center.
You can call 608–276–4660 for more information.