Making a Personal Directive – What is it?

Making a Personal Directive

What is it? Top 5 General Information Questions about Personal Directives

What is a Personal Directive?

what is a personal directiveA Personal Directive is a written, signed, dated and witnessed document that appoints someone else to look after your personal, non-financial matters (such as health). It allows you to determine in advance who will make personal (non-financial) decisions on your behalf if, due to illness or injury, you ever lose the mental ability to make these decisions for yourself. This can include decisions related to health care, housing and treatment.

It only applies while you are alive and ceases to be effective upon your death.

You are called the “maker” and the person you name to make your personal decisions is known as your “Agent”.

A Personal Directive does not give authority to make decisions about your financial matters – for that, you need a separate document, called a Power of Attorney.

In some jurisdictions, such a document is known as a “Living Will” – in Alberta, however, the correct legal term is “Personal Directive”.

Do I have to make a Personal Directive?

No. You do not have to make and Personal Directive – it is optional and voluntary. While there are good reasons to make one, you don’t have to, and no one can make you sign one if you do not want to.

Even service providers (such as doctors or care facilities) cannot require clients to have a Personal Directive.

For example, the Personal Directives Act makes it an offence to require a Personal Directive as a condition of obtaining residence or continuing as a resident in a care facility.

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 has this legal authority. As a result, simply speaking to others about your wishes is not enough to give them the legal right to handle your non-financial affairs once you cannot handle them yourself.

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.

Also, the people who care about you can feel confident that the decisions made on your behalf are what you want. Caregivers, such as doctors, nurses, lawyers and residential care and other service providers will feel more confident relying on the instructions of your Agent. This can all help to ease stress in difficult times.

The need for a Personal Directive may only be short term. However, in the event of a serious brain injury or a disease such as Alzheimer’s, a Personal Directive may be required for the remainder of your life.

In order to prevent confusion when the time comes, you may wish to advise your doctor and other care/service providers, family members, your lawyer and, if applicable, your minister of your Personal Directive.

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 Guardianship and Trusteeship Act to become the “guardian” of your person. 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.

The government does not generally help in this regard. The government acts only in situations where no other suitable person is available, able and willing.

If I don’t make a Personal Directive, will a doctor automatically step in if I cannot make decisions about my personal care?

In a medical emergency, a health care provider can give medical services without consent and without waiting to see a Personal Directive. If this happens, the health care practitioner must inform the Agent (if there is one) of the circumstances as soon as possible. In non-emergency situations, doctors and other health care providers cannot continue to make such choices on your behalf.

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