Advanced Care Planning – Personal Directives

I attended a series of presentations an independent MLA hosted in Calgary on Saturday.  First, I want to applaud his effort for bringing together experts to discuss issues that not only impact Seniors but, frankly, us all.

Advanced Care Planning was the last presentation on the agenda.

During the brief break before it began, there was a mass exit of about half the room. I wondered if it was the nature of the topic, or if these people all had their Personal Directive’s completed.

I would venture to guess, based on the statistics for adult Canadians who have written their Will being only 38%, that the majority of those who left likely don’t have a Personal Directive, let alone an up to date one.  I would also venture to guess they have no idea why they need one.

Why do you need a Personal Directive?

“About 80% of people at the end of their life are in a position where they can’t make their own decisions…Some people will say that ‘my family knows what to do’ or ‘my doctor will know what to do’ and unfortunately they’re wrong.” – Associate Professor Charlie Corke – Intensive Care Specialist

Personal Directives provide clear instructions to medical staff and those who love you about your goals of care, during a time you lack the capacity to make those decisions for yourself.

They include the type of care or medical interventions you want, more specifically, what you don’t want, under certain circumstances.  These goals of care are decided by you in advance for when you:

  • become ill or disabled
  • require surgery
  • have a serious accident
  • sustain a critical injury
  • are diagnosed with a terminal illness
  • have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s
  • are simply dying of old age

Anyone who has reached the age of majority or is older should have a Personal Directive completed.  It designates who will make decisions and the kinds of decisions that need to be made on your behalf, that are based on your values and wishes and what is important to you.

 Is a Personal Directive recognized as a legal document?

A Personal Directive is generally considered a legal document if it is written by anyone who has reached the age of majority and if the document is signed, dated and witnessed.  It is not necessary to consult a lawyer to prepare a legally recognized Personal Directive, however, there may be certain advantages to having one prepared by a lawyer, depending on your personal circumstances and ability to pay for their service.

It is best to check with the health authority where you live or the area you may be traveling to, to see if it is recognized as a legal document.  In some cases, it may not, however, it may be used as a guide for health care decisions that are being contemplated by medical practitioners if you are not able to instruct them yourself.

If you reside part-time outside of the province or state where you live now, you must have a Personal Directive completed for each location and carry it with you, and especially while traveling.

In Alberta, as long as the Personal Directive is signed, dated and witnessed, no matter what province or country it is from, it will be honoured as a legal document under the Personal Directive Act.

There is much more to Advanced Care Planning and Personal Directives than I can cover here.  There is a lot of free information available online that you can gather to start the process.  Or you could purchase Planning for a Good Death – User’s Guide and Workbook as a “one-stop shop” for your all end of life planning.  The workbook includes a Personal Directive form you could use as your legal document.

Think about it

Talk about it

Pick a great decision maker

Write it down

Carry it with you

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