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Free Legal Help with Filling Out Healthcare Directives Available Thursday

Free legal assistance will be available at eight sites throughout the Ozarks Thursday for people who want to complete a healthcare directive. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.

Free legal assistance is available Thursday, April 16 from 10AM to 7PM in Springfield at

  • Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell
  • Library Station, 2535 N. Kansas Expressway
  • Brentwood Branch Library, 2214 Brentwood

Free legal assistance is available Thursday, April 16 from 11AM to 1PM at

  • Community Hall, 119 N.W. Washington St., Billings
  • City Hall, 304 S. Clarke, Clever
  • Nixa Senior Center, 404 S. Main St., Nixa
  • Ozark Senior Center, 727 S. 9th St., Ozark
  • Sparta Senior Center, 131 North Ave., Sparta

Shelton: Thursday is National Healthcare Decisions Day and several local attorneys have agreed to provide free help to anyone wishing to fill out a healthcare directive. Joining me in the studio to talk about this event and the importance of this legal document is Dianne Hansen. She’s an attorney with the Zerrer Elder Law Office in Springfield. Dianne, when we talk about healthcare directives, people may have heard that term but might not have a good handle on precisely what that means.
Hansen: Yes and that’s very important because there’s been a lot of different names for this document over the years. A lot of people still refer to it as “living will.” We legal practitioners are trying to move away from that name because people got it confused with an actual will. We like to call it a healthcare directive and also accompanying that would be a healthcare power of attorney. They’re two separate documents but are frequently executed at the same time. The healthcare power of attorney is a document whereby you select someone to act as your agent to help direct your healthcare in the event you are unable to do that. A healthcare directive focuses only on end of life issues. In the healthcare directive, you are given an opportunity to choose and limit the types of care you want at the end of your life, if you’re unable to speak for yourself.

Shelton: So this gets into those situations that have made national news where there’s not a directive and families sometimes disagree over how to deal with a person’s situation.

Hansen: That’s right and we had a very serious case a few years ago that languished in the courts and the young woman was in a coma and couldn’t speak for herself. There was a big disagreement between her husband and family. We want to prevent those kinds of events from happening. It’s so important to have these documents in place, even if you just have accidents or if your husband or someone has a stroke and can’t speak for themselves. If you don’t have one of these documents, the only alternative is to go to court and be appointed guardian who you want to help direct their healthcare.

Shelton: That’s probably an expensive, time-consuming and an emotional process, I’m sure.

Hansen: The fees for guardianship would be between $1000 and $1500 and it may take 3-4 weeks to get into court. It’s not the best thing to do. It’s so easy to execute a healthcare power of attorney and a directive, then you have everything you need.

Shelton: The healthcare directive, does it walk individuals through a variety of scenarios and ask the person to decide what he or she would like to have happen?

Hansen: Yes it does. The one we’re using on Thursday asks would you like tube feeding, invasive procedures like surgery, antibiotics, dialysis. You’ll be able to check off any of those items. You’re making the decision if I have a terminal condition, do I want to have these life-prolonging procedures or not.

Shelton: And of course in a situation where you couldn’t have that conversation where you couldn’t have that conversation with your healthcare provider or family.

Hansen: That’s right. When you execute a healthcare power of attorney in Missouri, you still retain the right to make the decisions yourself until the last moment when you can no longer communicate unless you’re certified by at least one doctor to be mentally incompetent. Otherwise, you’re in complete control of your healthcare until you die.

Shelton: Why do people put this off or don’t take responsibility for doing this for themselves?

Hansen: I think the biggest problem is no one wants to have this discussion. You don’t want to admit your parents are getting older. Parents don’t want to have this conversation with their children. It embarrasses them, sometimes families get very teary-eyed. An an elder law attorney, I meet with these families so frequently and I often find that in my office is the first time this conversation occurs. Sometimes they come to my office to draw wills and the discussion comes up. We’re so good about preparing our wills and figuring out who’s going to get our property but we forget this is probably the most important thing we can do for our loved ones is to have a mechanism in place so they can step in our shoes and help us at the end of our life when someone needs to make decisions for us.

Shelton: We’ve talked about this in the context of older adults but isn’t it true that all adults should have these documents in place?

Hansen: Very good point. Everybody over the age of 18 should have a healthcare directive, especially young people going away to college away from home where they might have to have healthcare on an emergency basis. Since they’re over 18, their parents cannot direct their healthcare unless they have signed authorization appointing their parent or loved one to act for them if they were in a serious accident, there could be real problems.