Advance Directives (Personal Directive)
- There are several different kinds of
directives, such as an advance directive, a living will, etc. It is
important to note that only a personal directive is legally
recognized in the Province of Alberta.
- A personal directive is a legal document. It
states a person's wishes about non-financial decisions, including
medical care, when they can no longer make the decisions on their
- A personal directive includes the name of an
"agent", a substitute decision maker, who has the
authority to make these non-financial decisions.
- Your family member needs to share their
feelings on life, illness, and death as well as their wishes about
end-of-life care with the agent and, if appropriate, with other
- A lawyer can be, but is not required to be,
involved in creating personal directives. Sample forms and
instructions for their completion are available from the Office of
the Public Guardian (see Resources).
- An Enduring Power of Attorney may also be
needed to assist with financial decisions.
- When adults are healthy and able to think
clearly, they should consider setting up a personal directive and
Enduring Power of Attorney for future planning and to express their
wishes for their care.
- Personal directives are legal documents that
allow people to state what they would want done about non-financial
matters, including medical and personal care, in the case of
terminal illness, dementia, coma, or stroke.
- These documents make it easier for family and
friends to make non-financial and personal decisions when the person
can no longer do so.
- The documents also help the health care team
recommend treatments that match the person's wishes.
- Many caregivers have said that a personal
directive helped them a great deal when treatment decisions needed
to be made. These documents represented their family member's
interests when discussing health care and other decisions with the
health care team, and helped reduce the stress associated with
emotionally difficult decisions.
- Personal directives also help older people
feel confident that future medical decisions will be based on their
values, wishes and beliefs.
personal directive is a voluntary document. You do not need a lawyer
to make a personal directive. There are legal requirements for a
personal directive to be valid. Sample forms are available from the
Office of the Public Guardian (see Resources).
- A personal directive states a person's wishes
about personal, non-financial matters including medical care. It is
used if, at some time in the future, the person is unable to make
decisions about non-financial matters. The personal directive
includes the name of someone (an "agent") who has the
authority to make these decisions.
- A copy of the personal directive should go to
the agent and the family physician. The personal directive should
also be included in the medical record if the older person is
admitted to a hospital or a long-term care facility. This way,
health care staff will know what the patient's wishes are if he or
she cannot speak.
- All adults should discuss their wishes and
their personal directives with their family members or those closest
to them. They should choose someone to make non-financial and
medical decisions if, in the future, they were unable to do so. This
person is called an "agent," which means someone who has
the authority to act for another person.
- The older person can identify their agent in
their personal directive.
- Older people usually select a family member
or a close friend as an agent. The agent should be someone the older
person trusts to make the right decision or choices for him or her.
Be sure that the person selected feels comfortable serving as an
Your family member needs to share their
feelings on life, illness, and death as well as their wishes about
care with the agent and, if appropriate, with other family members.
They should discuss questions such as the
- Would the person want to receive artificial
nutrition at the end of life? Would they want to be on a respirator
(breathing machine) if they were unlikely to recover or in a
- What illness or permanent disability would be
unacceptable to the older person? If they had a terminal illness,
would they want medical treatments to prolong life or only medicines
to remain comfortable?
- What medical treatments would not be wanted
under any circumstances, even if the treatment were used
- What medical treatments are acceptable on a
temporary basis to help recover from an illness, but would not be
- Similar arrangements should be made for
financial affairs via an Enduring Power of Attorney. A trusted
caregiver, such as a family member or friend, can be chosen to
assist with financial decisions. This allows the designated
caregiver, known as the "attorney", to make decisions
about financial matters or property on the family member's
behalf while that person is still alive but unable to make such
decisions on their own.
- The Enduring Power of Attorney is a separate
legal document and is not part of the personal directive.
- If there is a significant estate or if there
is family discord, this should be prepared with the help of a
lawyer. However, in clearer situations, standard templates can be
- Guardianship and trusteeship come into play
when someone is no longer capable of making independent decisions
and there are no advance directives, such as a personal directive
and Enduring Power of Attorney, in place. When this situation
occurs, guardianship and/or trusteeship must be obtained through the
- Assistance is available from social work
agencies for families who need to make these types of arrangements.
concept of "capacity" – whether or not a person is
capable of making decisions -- is domain specific and question
specific. For example, a diagnosis of dementia does not
automatically mean lack of capacity. A person with dementia may
retain the ability to make personal decisions until well into their
illness, but lose their financial reasoning quite early, or vice
- Generally speaking, people with dementia
retain their ability to name an agent well into the illness.
However, this is not always the case, so advance planning is always
the better option. A physician or psychologist trained in capacity
assessment will be able to give you an opinion on whether your
family member is still capable.
While the content of each Caregiver
College Topic may be linked to a variety of other Topic areas, the
following has been identified as a Key Linkage which you may be
interested in also reviewing:
Government of Alberta
of the Public Guardian: Sample personal directive
forms, directions on how to complete the forms and frequently asked
questions are provided.
is a Personal Directive in Alberta?: The Provincial
Health Ethics Network provides links to information about Personal
Directives, including legislation, FAQs and two publications that
can be accessed online or sent to you for free.
Society of Alberta
- Lawyer Referral Service, which assists people
in finding a lawyer in Alberta.