An advance directive for health care is one of the most important elements in your estate plan. Even if you don’t have a will in place yet, it’s wise to draw up this advance directive to “speak” for you if you can’t speak for yourself.
An advance directive lets medical providers know your wishes regarding what life-prolonging measures you want used to keep you alive if you become incapacitated by a serious injury or illness and cannot communicate your wishes. It also allows you to indicate under what circumstances you want any kind of artificial measures for keeping you alive removed.
It’s also best to appoint a health care agent or representative and give them power of attorney (POA) to speak to your medical team about your condition and help ensure that your wishes are followed. It’s important to make sure the person you choose for this role is comfortable advocating for your wishes and isn’t afraid to stand up to relatives who might disagree with them.
Keep more than one copy
While this document is part of your estate plan, you need to be sure that there’s not just one copy locked away in a safe, desk drawer or somewhere on your computer. Of course, your attorney will have a copy. However, it also needs to be accessible to your health care agent and to any doctors treating you.
Typically, at the very least, your primary care physician or the health system you belong to should have a copy. Many of them now allow people to upload their advance directives so they’re available when needed.
Don’t travel without it
If you travel regularly (or even if you don’t), you never know where you may end up in a hospital. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to keep a copy with you. You could carry a paper copy with your passport and other documents or keep in on a flash drive or on your phone. However, it’s easier to find and identify if it’s with your paper documents.
Developing an advance directive for health care that reflects your wishes can save your loved ones the difficult task of deciding what you would want and helps prevent family conflict. However, it’s only worthwhile if the right people know about it.