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Don't just lock away your advance health care directive

An advance health care directive is one of the most crucial elements in your estate plan. Even if you don't have a full estate plan in place, by having this document, you can let your medical providers know about your wishes regarding what measures you want taken (or not taken) to keep you alive if you suffer a serious injury or illness and are unable to speak for yourself.

However, this document should not just be drawn up and stored away in a locked desk drawer or a safe deposit box that no one else can access. It needs to be available to the appropriate people should the need arise. If you have a close encounter with an overly-friendly giraffe on a photo safari in Africa and end up in the hospital in a coma, an advance directive locked in your safe in your Los Angeles home isn't going to give the doctors any direction if no one can get to it.

Following are some tips for what to do with your advance health care directive once you and your attorney have completed it:

  • Make multiple copies.
  • Put one in a safe place in your home, and let family members and/or the administrator of your estate or other fiduciaries know where to find it. Make sure they can access it.
  • Keep a copy with you when you travel.
  • Give a copy to your doctor(s) to keep on file and possibly to your local hospital.
  • If you have a pastor or priest, give them a copy.
  • Consider scanning the document so that a digital copy is available even if you lose all of your paper copies in a fire, flood or earthquake.

Your estate planning attorney may have other suggestions for people who should have a copy of your directive based on your individual circumstances. They will keep a copy on file. However, if you're in a situation where no one knows who your attorney is, that won't help you.

It's also important that you revisit that document (and your entire estate plan, if you have one) periodically. You want to make sure that it still reflects your wishes.

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