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The unfortunate reality is that life could take a turn that makes it impossible for you to communicate your medical wishes to your family or healthcare professionals. You could suffer a stroke or get in a car accident, for instance. You still want the doctors to know what type of care to provide, and you can use an advance directive to give them instructions.

As you can imagine, this is a very important document, and it’s crucial to know how to use it properly. Here are a few tips:

  • Always make sure that your documents are in writing so there can be no dispute about what you wanted.
  • Take the original copies and put them somewhere safe and secure.
  • Make copies of the document and then give them out to those who need them. This could include your doctor or someone you pick to be your health care agent, if needed.
  • As you hand out these copies, make a list of exactly who got one.
  • Put a note in your wallet saying that you created an advance directive and telling the person reading the card who has it. This can help them track it down in an emergency.
  • Tell other family members what you want and alert them to the existence of the documents. Tell them where to find the paperwork and who you picked as your agent.
  • Whenever you travel, bring a copy of your advance directive along with you, just in case you end up in an unfamiliar hospital.

An advance directive is an important part of your estate plan. Be sure you know how to officially draft and file one as you plan for the future.