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Wisconsin City Discovers Multiple Benefits to End-of-Life Planning

In most places throughout the country, the vast majority of people have not engaged in end-of-life planning. According to an NPR report, only about 30 percent of people have an advance directive, living will or similar document. However, in LaCrosse, that number is far different. More than 95 percent of the people in that city have advance directives or other forms of end-of-life planning documents. As a result, the people of LaCrosse have served as an illustration of the numerous positives that families receive when proper end of life planning is put on paper in advance of needing it.

The high rate of end-of-life planning in LaCrosse, NPR states, is largely attributable to the work of the Gunderson Health System, which runs the local hospital and, specifically, one Gunderson employee, medical ethicist Bud Hammes. After counseling many families whose relative had become gravely or catastrophically ill with no advance directive in place, Hammes began training nurses at the hospital to inquire about filling out advance directives, in order to save future families from undergoing the “palpable” distress of those he’d been counseling.

Advance directives can often save families substantial emotional anguish as, depending on the injured or ill person’s circumstances, it may be necessary for the family to go to court and obtain an order appointing a guardian to make medical decisions, especially decisions regarding the termination of life-extending treatment.

In addition to that benefit, end of life planning also saves families money in many situations. Patients’ advanced plans for their end of life care frequently include choices that are not as costly. “It turns out that if you allow patients to choose and direct their care, then often they choose a course that is much less expensive,” Gunderson CEO Jeff Thompson told NPR. A National Review report cited statistics from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care showing a sizable difference: $18,000 in LaCrosse versus $26,000 nationally, on average, for the cost of care of the last two months of life.

One possible reason for this difference is the intense psychological component of making end of life decisions. Some children might demand aggressive, ongoing treatment for a parent’s terminal illness, not because they believe it reflects the parent’s preferences, but due to other reasons, such as the extreme emotional aversion to the pain of losing that parent, the desire of a long-distance child to “prove” their love by demanding continued life-prolonging care or the fear that approving the cessation of care will cause other relatives to blame them for “killing Mom.” By placing your own wishes and objectives for end of life care on paper, in advance, you can help your family side-step many of these emotional landmines. Knowing that they are carrying out your wishes for the way you want to live, and die, often helps families accept the decision to end life-extending care.

Advance directives, living wills and other forms of end of life planning are immensely important for the emotional and financial benefits your family can derive from them. Of course, a complete estate plan goes far beyond just a living will. To get your end of life and estate planning started, call Madison estate planning attorney Daniel J. Krause of Estate Law Partners, LLC. Our office can provide you with sensitive and thoughtful plans to meet your family’s needs. Contact Attorney Daniel J. Krause today.

Reach us through our website or call our office at (608) 292-5185 to schedule your confidential, no obligation initial consultation.

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