Find a Living Will or Advance Directive Registry in the District of Columbia
Some states have established databases, usually called “registries,” where you can file your Living Will or Advance Directive. (If your state has a registry, you'll find a link to it at the end of this article.) Other states recommend a privately owned, national registry called the U.S. Living Will Registry. These systems provide central locations that medical professionals can consult to determine whether patients have made documents directing their health care.
Using a registry can increase the likelihood that your critical health care wishes will be found and followed when needed -- but there are other steps you should take to make your health care wishes known.
The Best Way to Make Your Health Care Wishes Known
After you've made a document directing your health care, the first thing to do is talk with the person you’ve named as your health care representative, often called your “agent.” Your agent doesn’t have to read your living will or advance directive, but he or she should understand your wishes and be comfortable speaking for you. Give your agent a copy of the document or, at the very least, be sure your agent knows where the document is and how to easily obtain it if necessary.
After speaking with your agent, consider giving copies of your living will or advance directive to the doctors or hospitals most likely to treat you. They can add the document to your medical record. As more and more medical records are kept electronically, the chances increase that your health care documents will be easily found in this way.
You may also want to give copies of your living will or advance directive to those closest to you -- perhaps immediate family members or your closest friends.
Using a Living Will or Advance Directive Registry
When you sign up with a Living Will registry, you’ll be asked to provide basic information about your health care documents, such as the name and contact information for your health care agent. Some registries ask for a complete copy of your health care documents, which they scan into their records. Others will want to know only a few important details, such as where you keep your documents at home. Registries usually provide their services for free or at a very low cost.
After you register, you may receive a wallet card to carry with you. (If not, it’s never a bad idea to make one of your own.) If you like, you can copy this card and give it to others to remind them to contact the registry if you have a medical emergency.
Will a Living Will or Advance Directive Registry Help You?
A registry service will work only if your doctor or hospital uses it. Some doctors and hospitals do not check registries when a patient is admitted. Instead, they rely on their own internal systems to locate and follow patients’ wishes for care.
That said, using a registry will not hurt you -- as long as you also take the other important steps to share your documents, outlined above -- and if you are admitted to a facility that does consult a registry, it may help. A registry may turn out to be especially helpful in an emergency when your health care agent doesn't yet know you've been admitted for care -- for example, if you are traveling.
Keep Your Health Care Documents Up to Date
If you change or revoke your health care documents, be sure that all old copies are destroyed and distribute copies of the new versions. If you've put your documents on file with a registry, contact the registry to learn the procedures you must use to update your registration.
For More Information
the District of Columbia does not have its own living will or advance directive registry. You may want to consider putting your document on file at the U.S. Living Will Registry.
For more information about making health care directives the District of Columbia, see What District of Columbia Residents Need to Know About Living Wills and Medical Powers of Attorney.