Your advance medical directive won’t help if no one can find it

An advance medical directive gives instructions on the kind of medical care you’d like to receive if you become unable to express your wishes yourself, and it often designates someone to make medical decisions for you. This document is an important part of a complete estate plan – but it won’t be of much value in an emergency if it’s tucked away in a safe deposit box or in a file cabinet where no one can easily find it.

It’s a good idea to carry a card in your wallet or purse saying that you have such a directive, and telling medical personnel how to access it. For instance, if you routinely carry a cell phone or tablet with you, you could upload it as a file on your device.

There are a growing number of software programs, apps and cloud-based options that offer to store such documents and make them available in an emergency. Also, about a dozen states have established online registries for advance directives.

But the most important step is to have an advance directive in the first place. Most Americans still don’t – and that can create very difficult quandaries for loved ones in a crisis.