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understanding personal directives
Rod Urquijo is a capacity assessment policy analyst for Alberta’s Office of the Public Guardian.
Q:I’m in my 60s, and while I’m relatively healthy now, my wife and I want to plan for the future and let our children know
our wishes. We have a will, but should we also each
have a personal directive?
A:A personal directive is a legal document hat allows you to name someone you trust o make personal decisions on your behalf
should you, at some point, lose the mental ability
to do so, either due to illness or an accident. A will
is a legal document that carries out your decisions
following your death. In a personal directive, you
can name more than one person to act as an agent on
your behalf, and you can even outline which areas of
the directive you want each person to have responsibility over. Your instructions in the directive guide
decisions about issues that are important to you.
Many people are familiar with the term “
enduring power of attorney,” which is similar, but for
financial matters only. In a personal directive,
you can outline any desires and instructions you
have for your health care, as well as your wishes
about other important personal matters. These can
include instructions about where you want to live,
whom you want to have around you, any social
activities you want to be involved in and non-finan-cial legal matters, such as whom you would allow
access to your medical information. Also, you can
outline important personal matters like end-of-life
decisions and temporary care or education of any
underage children. When outlining your desires,
you may want to consider allowing some flexibility in
these instructions to allow for changes in technology
or in your circumstances.
By making a personal directive, you can feel
secure knowing your wishes and instructions about
your own life will be respected. It can also take
some of the decision-making pressure off family
or anyone who might be a part of caring for you at
some point. Any Albertan 18 years old and older
can make a personal directive, as long as they understand the nature and effect of writing one.
The person or people named in your directive
only begin acting on your behalf once the directive is enacted. If you don’t have a personal directive, your family may have to apply to the court to
become your guardian or act as a specific decision
maker under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act for time-limited health care or temporary
The decision of when to enact the personal directive is done through a capacity assessment. An
assessment would only be done if there is reason
to believe that you were no longer able to conduct
your personal affairs. The capacity assessment
would establish whether you were capable or incapable of making personal decisions. If the assessment
found you were incapable, and you had a personal
directive, only then would it be activated.
In your personal directive, you can name someone you trust to complete your capacity assessment,
should the time come. For example, you might name
a trusted friend to determine capacity, or a sibling.
The Personal Directives Act requires the person
named to consult with a physician or psychologist
when completing the assessment. A physician or
psychologist must also complete their own separate
assessment. If you do not name a specific person to
assess your capacity, the act states that two service
providers, one of whom must be a physician or
psychologist, can complete the capacity assessment.
Having a personal directive in Alberta is voluntary
but can be a helpful part of planning for the future.
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