Estate Planning

A Personal Directive gives direction for health care decisions?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Power of Attorney and how they help people make financial decisions when you are not able to. In this article, I want to talk about who you want to make health care decisions when you are not capable of making those decisions yourself.

No one wants to become dependent on others, but the reality is it will happen to a lot of us. Who decides when you get put into a nursing home? Who decides what nursing home? You might be the person needing the care or you might be the caregiver. Anyone who has faced these issues on either side of the situation knows how difficult it is to make these decisions.

Moving you into a nursing home is usually a decision that is made by someone else. How will they know how to make that decision without some direction or knowledge about what you want?

A Personal Directive

A Personal Directive is a written, signed, dated and witnessed document that appoints someone else to look after your personal, health matters. Financial matters are dealt with using a separate document, called a Power of Attorney.

A Personal Directive is also called a Health Care Directive or a living Will (They are terms used in different regions for the same purpose). With this document, you give someone the power to make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so yourself. This can include decisions related to health care, housing and treatment. The person you appoint to make these decisions for you is called the agent.

The personal directive only applies while you are alive and ceases to be effective upon your death.

Who is the ideal person for an agent?

The ideal ‘agent’ should have the following characteristics:

  • Knows how you would want to be treated
  • Shares your values about health care and quality-of-life
  • Will be available to meet with doctors and nursing home/hospital staff
  • Is comfortable dealing with doctors and other health care providers
  • Can handle the emotional burden of caring for you
  • Can communicate with your other family members.

Not only should you name a primary agent but you should also name an alternate in your Personal Directive.

Often the first choice is your spouse. For an alternate, people often choose among parents (if not too elderly), siblings, or adult children.

Why should I make a Personal Directive?

The law in Alberta does not allow for another person to automatically make decisions for you – not even your spouse, adult interdependent partner or a close relative. By making a Personal Directive, you can gain greater control over your future personal matters. It allows you to specify the person(s) you choose to be legally entitled to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you become mentally incompetent in the future.

A Personal Directive can also specify the types of treatment or care that you do or do not want. Be careful of being too specific. In fact, many professionals feel it is wiser to not specify anything. No one knows what may befall you and when, and no one can predict what health care would be appropriate at that time. The wishes that some people put into heath care directives (e.g. no heroic efforts to resuscitate) are notoriously difficult to interpret, and therefore best avoided completely.

What happens if I don’t make a Personal Directive?

If you do not prepare a Personal Directive that can take effect when you become mentally incapacitated, family members or other interested parties will have to make a Guardianship application under the Alberta Adult Trusteeship and Guardianship Act. This court process can be lengthy (it can take several months) and costly, can result in disagreements and bad feelings among your family members and friends, and may result in authority being given to someone whom you yourself might not have chosen.

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