Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
About The U.S. Living Will Registry®
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Frequently Asked Questions by Health Care
What Is An Advance Directive?
An advance directive allows a person to make their health care choices known
in advance of an incapacitating illness. It is a legal document in which you
state how you want to be treated in the event you become very ill and there is
no reasonable hope for your recovery. Although laws vary from state to state in
America, there are basically two kinds of directives:
- A Living Will is a legal document in which you state the kind of health
care you want or don't want under certain circumstances.
- A Health Care Proxy (or durable health care power of attorney) is a
legal document in which you name someone close to you to make decisions
about your health care in the event you become incapacitated.
Can A Person Have Both Types Of Advance Directives?
Yes, you can have a Health Care Proxy - naming a person to make the
decisions -- and a Living Will to help guide that person in making the
decisions. However, in order for your advance directive to be useful, it has
to available and accessible. After all, it won't do you any good unless it's
available when needed.
You can register both, a living will and a health care
proxy, with the U.S. Living Will Registry.
Why Do I Need An Advance Directive?
Advance directives give you a voice in decisions about your medical care
when you are unconscious or too ill to communicate. As long as you are able
to express your own decisions, your advance directive will not be used and
you can accept or refuse any medical treatment. But if you become seriously
ill, you may lose the ability to participate in decisions about your own
treatment. That's when your advance directive becomes important.
When Would An Advance Directive Become Effective?
Your advance directive will become effective when you are incapacitated
and are unable to make decisions regarding your care.
How Does The U.S. Living Will Registry® Work?
Simply register your advance directive with
the U.S. Living Will Registry® by filling out a form that gives the Registry
permission to send a copy to any health care provider. You agree to inform
the Registry if you ever decide to change your advance directive. You can
register through a
Health Care Provider or a Community Partner...some offer the service at
discounted rates or even free of charge...or you can register directly
through the Registry. Once registered, you are registered for life.
The Registry electronically stores your advance directive in its computer
database and identifies it by a unique Registration # and your social
security # (Note: Providing your social security # is optional). You
are given labels for you driver's license and insurance card, stating that
you are registered, and a wallet card listing your Registration #. Health
care providers can contact the computer on the telephone or via a secure
Internet web site, and request a copy of your advance directive. The
computer sends a copy to the provider, and it is kept as part of your
confidential medical record. If you don't have your card, the health care
provider can still access your document by searching for name and birth date
or by using your social security # if you provided it when you registered
(health care providers almost always have your social security # because
they use it for billing purposes).
Your document is stored and transmitted in the safest way possible to
insure your privacy.
You will have peace of mind knowing that your advance directive is safe,
secure and available to your family and doctors whenever and wherever it is
needed. And because health care providers can contact the Registry to see if
any patient has an advance directive, they can retrieve your document
even if they don't have your card.
Do I have to submit my Social Security number?
No, submitting your social security number is optional. The Registry
assigns a unique Registration # to each registrant, and if the registrant
provides their social security number, it serves as a second identifier.
The Registration # is listed on your wallet card, and allows easy access to your
document via the secure Internet site. When your document is retrieved with the
Registration #, your social security # is not revealed to the person receiving
Hospitals use social security numbers for billing, so they almost always have
it available to them. This makes your document easily available even if your
card is not. If you choose not to provide your social security #,
hospitals can still retrieve your document using your Registration #, or by
searching by your name and birth date. While providing your social
security number may make your document easier to retrieve, it is not required
for registration, it is your option.
How do you ensure the privacy of my Social Security #?
We are very aware of the need to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of
your social security #. As stated in the answer to the question above, we use
the social security # because it is almost universally used by hospitals to
identify patients, and therefore provides a great way to make your document
available to whatever hospital requests it. Anyone accessing your document
using your Registration #, will not see or have access to your social security
#. We never share or release any of your personal information to outside parties
If you do not want to provide your social security #, you can still register
How much does it cost to register?
Many member Health Care Providers and Community Partners provide the service
at a discounted rate or even free of charge to their patients, members, clients,
employees and the public. You can find a
Care Provider or Community Partner
using the search feature on the "How to Register"
page. You can also
register directly with the Registry.
What Are The Benefits To Me?
- Peace Of Mind - Namely, peace of mind, knowing that your choices
are secure and will be available to your family and doctors even if you
become incapacitated or ill away from home.
- Serenity - The serenity of knowing that you will be able to
"speak" to your family and doctors through your advance directive about your
personal philosophy and help them make the decisions you want without them
feeling guilt or remorse.
- Security - The security of confidential, 24-hour access to your
choices by authorized hospitals across America.
What If I Change My Mind?
You can revoke your health care power of attorney at any time while you are
competent by informing your agent or physician that you have changed your mind.
You must notify the Registry if you change or revoke your advance directive.
How Do I Prepare And Register An Advance Directive?
If you don't have an advance directive, decide upon the kinds of medical
treatment you wish to have (or not have) and discuss them with your chosen
decision-maker and your family. Next, formalize your wishes in an advance
- Ask your lawyer to help you.
- Or request assistance from your local hospital in finalizing your
You can obtain a Living Will form from the U.S.
Living Will Registry, any hospital or via the Internet (search: living will).
your advance directive by completing the Registration Agreement
(you can obtain an Agreement from a
member Health Care Provider or Community Partner), and mailing it with your
advance directive to the U.S. Living Will Registry.
Will My Advance Directive Be Honored If I Become Ill In Another State?
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws recognizing the use of
advance directives (i.e., living wills, medical powers of attorney). Most states
honor another state's advance directive. But more importantly, if your advance
directive is registered, your family and doctors will have access to your
Furthermore, both federal and state laws govern the use of advance
directives. The federal law, the Patient Self-Determination Act, requires health
care facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds to inform patients of
their rights to execute advance directives.
Is the U.S. Living Will Registry® a legally acceptable way to store and
transmit advance directives?
The Registry was designed in consultation with attorneys who represent
hospitals. We wanted to be sure that the documents we transmitted would be
acceptable to health care providers, so we asked the hospital’s attorneys what
they would require from such a service. We then included their suggestions in
our Policies & Procedures.
In addition, an independent law firm reviewed the Registry’s Policies &
Procedures and then reviewed the laws on advance directives in all 50 states.
They concluded that there was no legal impediment to health care providers
relying on documents they received from the Registry.
What if I want to register, but I don't want to send in my
While our systems are secure and your confidentiality is
protected, we understand that some people simply don't want to place their
document on-line. The answer is the Document Locator Form. This form
allows people to register, without submitting their actual document for on-line
storage. Instead of scanning the document into the database, the
registrant completes a Document Locator Form. This form states that the
registrant has an up to date advance directive, and tells the provider where the
document can be found. You can list the names and telephone numbers of
people who you have given your document to, and you can also list specific
locations where you have placed your document. The completed form is
scanned into the database instead of the actual document, so when a health care
provider accesses your document, they will receive the locator form. They
will know that you have an advance directive and can get it when needed.
For more information on the Document Locator Form, click here.
What safeguards are in place to protect my privacy?
Your advance directive is a legal document and its privacy and
confidentiality must be protected. In the Registration Agreement, it is clearly
stated “Registry is not authorized to share my personal information with parties
other than health care providers.” Health care providers (as defined by federal
regulations on advance directives) are hospitals, doctors, skilled nursing
facilities, nursing facilities, home health agencies, providers of home health
care, ambulatory surgery facilities, and hospices. Once transmitted to a
provider, your advance directive becomes part of your medical record. Law
protects the privacy of medical records.
The Registry does not share or sell your personal information and no
identifying information is collected from this web site. Please see the link to
our Privacy Statement for more details.
What does the Registry do with the advance directive I send in to register?
Your advance directive is scanned into our computer so that an exact image of
your document is stored. The Registry does not review your advance directive or
provide any legal advice or legal services. We simply store your document and
make it available to health care providers whenever and wherever it is needed.
If you ever decide to change your advance directive, your old directive will be
destroyed and your new document will be registered in the computer data bank.
How do health care providers know that the advance directive they receive
from the Registry is up to date?
The Registry contacts each registrant every year to have them confirm that
their advance directive, personal information and emergency contact information
have not changed. The date of the last update to each registrant’s information
is printed on the coversheet that the provider receives when they request your
advance directive. With this system, your confirmed document and information
should always be less than one year old.
By their very nature, advance directives are prepared well in advance of when
they may be needed. So even if your document is available, if it is very old,
there could be some question as to whether it still reflects your wishes. The
Registry sends a letter every year to each registrant that allows them to update
their personal and emergency contact information, and to confirm that their
advance directive has not been changed or revoked. The date of this
confirmation is recorded on the wallet card and on the coversheet provided to
health care providers when they access your document. In this way, there will be
no doubt that your document still reflects your current wishes.
May I register a copy of my advance directive or do I need to supply one
with original signatures?
Yes, you may file a copy of your document. In the Registration Agreement, you
certify that if you are registering a copy of your advance directive, it is a
true and correct copy of the original document. In this way we can be sure that
the document we have on file is an exact copy of your advance directive, while
allowing you to keep your original document.
Does the Registry offer services in Spanish?
The Registry has prepared Spanish translations of the information packet and
the Registration Agreement. Those who register with the Spanish
Registration Agreement, automatically receive Spanish versions of the
confirmation letter and annual update letters. Visit
Español to view the
Spanish version of the educational pamphlet and to download a pdf version of
What do registrants think about this service?
We receive calls from people every day asking what current registrants think
of our service. The feedback we receive has only been positive. Please go
to the “Testimonials” link to read what our
registrants say about the service we provide.