Living Will or Advance Directive Registries: Should You Use Them?

Learn about registering your living will or advance directive.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

One of the most important parts of making a living will or advance health care directive is making sure others know where to find your document if it becomes necessary. The best way to do this is to give copies of your advance directive to your health care agent, if you named one, and to the doctors or health care facilities most likely to be treating you. You may also want to consider giving copies to trusted members of your immediate family and your closest friends.

In addition to those time-tested methods, you may want to consider something new: placing information about your health care documents on file in an official state registry for living wills or advance directives.

About Living Will or Advance Directive Registries

In recent years, states have begun to provide registries for living wills or advance directives. For a small fee, you can record information about your document in a state-maintained database that medical professionals can access later.

In some states, you must include a copy of your completed advance directive form when you register. In others, you have the option to provide only basic details about your document, such as the name and contact information for your health care agent and the location of the form.

After you register, many states provide a wallet card that you can carry with you. You can also copy this card and give it to others, reminding them to contact the registry in the event of a medical emergency.

Should You Use Your State's Living Will or Advance Directive Registry?

Practical experience has shown that doctors and hospitals have been slow to adopt the registry system; many simply do not check them when a patient is admitted. (On the other hand, medical professionals are starting to rely on their own internal systems—most commonly POLST forms—to capture patients' wishes for care and ensure that they are followed. Learn more about Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Forms.)

Nevertheless, there is still some momentum toward creating and using advance directive registries. If your state offers one, you may want to use it on the theory that it is not very expensive to register and it can't hurt you to do so. If medical professionals start to use registries more frequently, your registration may turn out to be helpful.

Keeping Your Registration Up to Date

If you choose to use a state living will registry and you later update or revoke your living will, be sure to update your registration.

For More Information

To find out whether your state has an advance directive registry, do an Internet search for the name of your state followed by "advance directive registry" or "living will registry." For example, if you live in California, you can type "California advance directive registry" into your search engine and you will obtain a link to the advance health care directive registry maintained by the California Secretary of State's office.

For more information about making health care directives in your state, see our Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section.

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