If you have a living will and health care power of attorney (if you don’t, you probably should), you may automatically lock it away in your safe deposit box. But this safe keeping may prove to be too safe in the event of an emergency, when family members may need access to your wishes, as well as the original documents.
Harvard Medical School recommends storing your original living will and health care power of attorney in your home. Choose a secure place and tell your designated health care agent (and any alternative agents), family and close friends where you put it. You should make several copies too, and note on each copy where the original documents can be found. As for the copies, make sure you designate one each for the following:
- Your designated health care agent (and alternative agents)
- Your doctor, to be filed in your medical record
- Your hospital chart, in the event you are hospitalized
- To carry with you (in your wallet or purse, keep a card with your health care agent’s contact information as well as where your original advance directives and copies can be found)
If you have a do not resuscitate order (DNR), a signed form may be necessary in an emergency, or you can choose to wear a bracelet that identifies your DNR decision. Also be sure to ask your lawyer how long your advance directives will be kept on file (if you had a professional create the documents). And remember to keep your health care directives up to date.
Update Your Health Care Wishes According to the “5 D’s”
When you create a new living will or power of attorney, it will automatically supersede your old one. The American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging recommends updating your health care wishes when any of the “five d’s” occur:
- Decade: At each new decade of your life (30s, 40s, 50s, etc.)
- Death: If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one
- Divorce: If you’ve recently divorced or had any other major family change
- Diagnosis: If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious medical problem
- Decline: If you’ve experienced a significant decline or deterioration in your health (especially if it impacts your ability to live independently)
If you move to a different state, it’s also best to verify that your living will is still valid, and be sure to collect your old directive forms so you can destroy them (and distribute the new one in its place).