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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 knowour wishes. We have a will, but should we also eachhave 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 behalfshould you, at some point, lose the mental abilityto do so, either due to illness or an accident. A willis a legal document that carries out your decisionsfollowing your death. In a personal directive, youcan name more than one person to act as an agent onyour behalf, and you can even outline which areas ofthe directive you want each person to have responsibility over. Your instructions in the directive guidedecisions about issues that are important to you.
Many people are familiar with the term “enduring power of attorney,” which is similar, but forfinancial matters only. In a personal directive,you can outline any desires and instructions youhave for your health care, as well as your wishesabout other important personal matters. These caninclude instructions about where you want to live,whom you want to have around you, any socialactivities you want to be involved in and non-finan-cial legal matters, such as whom you would allowaccess to your medical information. Also, you canoutline important personal matters like end-of-lifedecisions and temporary care or education of anyunderage children. When outlining your desires,you may want to consider allowing some flexibility inthese instructions to allow for changes in technologyor in your circumstances.
By making a personal directive, you can feelsecure knowing your wishes and instructions aboutyour own life will be respected. It can also takesome of the decision-making pressure off familyor anyone who might be a part of caring for you atsome point. Any Albertan 18 years old and oldercan make a personal directive, as long as they understand the nature and effect of writing one.
The person or people named in your directiveonly 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 tobecome your guardian or act as a specific decisionmaker under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act for time-limited health care or temporaryresidential placement.
The decision of when to enact the personal directive is done through a capacity assessment. Anassessment would only be done if there is reasonto believe that you were no longer able to conductyour personal affairs. The capacity assessmentwould establish whether you were capable or incapable of making personal decisions. If the assessmentfound you were incapable, and you had a personaldirective, 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 namea trusted friend to determine capacity, or a sibling.The Personal Directives Act requires the personnamed to consult with a physician or psychologistwhen completing the assessment. A physician orpsychologist must also complete their own separateassessment. If you do not name a specific person toassess your capacity, the act states that two serviceproviders, one of whom must be a physician orpsychologist, can complete the capacity assessment.
Having a personal directive in Alberta is voluntarybut can be a helpful part of planning for the future.
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