Nancy Wagner, a social worker at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., encounters this frustration at least once a week: A patient arrives in the emergency room and tells the inquiring staff that yes, she has indeed prepared and signed an advance directive. But, well, she doesn't have it with her.
An advance healthcare directive is a lot like a tire jack. When you get a flat, it is only useful when you bring it with you. This means you or your loved ones really need to ensure that the advance healthcare directive joins you on that trip to the hospital, since it does absolutely no good sitting on the shelf or in the safe.
The frustration of a directive left behind when it was needed is shared by family members and medical staff alike. In fact, this subject was discussed in the New Old Age Blog in a recent article titled "Where's That Advance Care Directive?"
An advance healthcare directive exists to serve an important purpose. Unfortunately, the loved one appointed to make decisions cannot make them until the document is recovered or replaced, assuming the patient has the capacity to do so. In the meantime, everyone is left in the lurch and the very things you may have planned to avoid begin to fall into place against your wishes all the same.
How do you avoid this? For starters, ensure that you or a loved one keeps the document handy at all times. In addition, provide a copy to each of your physicians and request that it be maintained in your official medical records. Failing that, the important people in your life should know where to get it or whom to ask for a copy. For example, your estate planning attorney should have a hard copy in your client file.