Keep your advance directive safe but accessible

Published: June, 2015

Many people understandably want to keep their living will and health care power of attorney forms in a secure place. But if these documents are locked away in a safe deposit box, they won't be much help if you're unexpectedly hospitalized. Here are some people who should have copies of your advance directives and some other places where they should be filed.

  • Your health care agent and any alternative agents. All should have a copy of your health care power of attorney (and your living will, if you have one). In an emergency, your agent may need to fax the documents to doctors or a hospital.

  • Your doctor. A copy of your advance directives should be in your file and medical record.

  • Your hospital chart. If you are in the hospital, ask to have a copy of your advance directives put in your chart. (Your health care agent or a family member should do so if you are unable to do it.)

  • A safe spot in your home. File the original documents in a secure place in your home — and tell your agent, family, and friends where you put them. Hospitals may request an original, so it's important that someone can find the documents when necessary. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization suggests noting on all copies of the documents where the originals are stored.

  • Carry it with you. Put a card with your health care agent's name and contact information in your wallet or purse. Also note on the card where you keep the original and additional copies of your directives.

If you have a do not resuscitate order (DNR), remember that you or your health care agent may be required to produce a signed form, or you may have to wear a special bracelet identifying that decision. If a lawyer drew up your advance directives, ask whether he or she will keep a copy, and for how long.

For additional information on the legal documents you should prepare and keep, buy Living Wills: A guide to advance directives, the health care power of attorney, and other key documents, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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