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Consumer Guide: End-of-Life Planning


Adult holding hand of a sick person

Planning for the end of your life or a loved one’s life can be stressful. There are a lot of important questions to think about:

  • Do you have an advance directive?
  • Have you thought about if you want to request a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order?
  • Are you an organ donor, or do you want to be?
  • Who has access to your health information?
  • Should you talk to a lawyer?

We offer resources on this page to help you answer these questions. The more you put into end-of-life planning before a stressful event, the easier it is later for you and your loved ones.

Advance directives

An advance directive describes, in writing, treatments you want or don’t want. It tells others what to do with your care if you get injured and can’t express your wishes.

You can complete an advance directive if you are 18 or older and of sound mind. Wisconsin law has two types of advance directives for health care:

  • A living will—Also called a Declaration to Physicians. A form that lets you define the kind of care you want to keep you alive if you are dying or in a vegetative state with no chance to get better. For example, your living will might say how long you should stay on life support if you are in a coma.
  • Power of attorney for health care—A document that appoints a person to make all your health care decisions if you can’t make decisions yourself. This includes all your care, not just life support.

You can also give power of attorney for finance and property. This appoints a person to manage your money. They may or may not be the same as the person who has power of attorney for health care.

These resources can help you think through what to include in an advance directive:

DNR orders

DNR orders are defined in Wisconsin law—Wis. Stat. ch. 154.

A DNR order is something a doctor (called the attending physician) writes. It tells emergency health care workers not to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if your heart stops or you can’t breathe. If you don’t have a DNR order, the care team will try CPR.

In Wisconsin, a doctor can issue a DNR order for qualified patients. See Wis. Stat. § 154.17(4).

It’s most helpful to set up a DNR order before you have an emergency. DNR orders only focus on CPR. The purpose of the DNR order is to make sure that your wishes are honored, no matter what facility you go to in an emergency.

Learn more about DNR Information.

Organ donors

If you register as an organ donor, when you die, your organs, tissues, and eyes go to those who need them. Organ donors can both save lives and improve lives.

The Wisconsin Donor Registry makes it easy to become an organ donor.

Learn more about our Organ and Tissue Donation Program.

Health information access and privacy

Both federal and state laws give you rights and protections related to your medical records:

  • You have the right to get, read, and sometimes change information in your medical records.
  • You have the right to privacy when it comes to sharing your medical records and other health information.

It’s helpful to know about your rights based on law. These resources can help you have a basic knowledge of these laws.

Legal help

With end-of-life planning, there’s a lot of legal jargon to review and understand. Sometimes it’s most helpful to work with a lawyer. These legal resources can help:

Last revised May 14, 2024