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Get answers to your questions about a Personal Directive or medical Power of Attorney

What is a Personal Directive?

A Personal Directive is a signed, dated and witnessed document which allows you to appoint another person to give directions as to your medical care and other personal matters if you are unable to do so yourself. It is a flexible document and can be drafted to suit individual concerns.

A Personal Directive can be made by anyone over the age of 18 who understands the nature and consequences of the document.

Why should I sign it now?

Complications in medical and personal decision-making may arise if you become mentally incompetent or physically incapable of expressing your own desires. By completing a Personal Directive now and discussing its provisions with your doctor and others close to you, you are not only ensuring that your own wishes will be followed, you are also relieving others of the emotional burden they will bear if they must make decisions for you.

Why should I have A Personal Directive?

Personal Directives allow you to control what decisions are made, how they are made, when they are made, and who will make them. If you have no Personal Directive and you lose the capacity to make your own personal decisions, it will be necessary for the Court to appoint a guardian, under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act, to make those decisions.  This means personal information used in the court application will become a part of the public record, the applicant will incur significant legal costs, and  important decisions could be made by someone you would not have appointed.

Can I name someone else to make medical treatment decisions for me?

Yes. A Personal Directive generally has a provision for the appointment of an Agent who will have the power to make medical and personal decisions for you in the event that you cannot do so yourself. Anyone who is willing may serve in this capacity, but it is important that you discuss your Personal Directive with your designated agent before or at the time you sign your Personal Directive. You should name as your Agent someone you trust will actually carry out your wishes. Not only can you name certain people as decision-makers for you in your Personal Directive, you may also exclude other people or agencies.

Are the appointment and instructions legally binding?

Yes. A Personal Directive is recognized by Alberta law in the Personal Directives Act and is valid and legally binding.

Who should witness my Personal Directive?

Your signature on the Personal Directive must be witnessed by at least one adult who is not your spouse and who is not designated as your Agent under your Personal Directive.

Once I have signed the Personal Directive, how can I make sure it will be enforced?

The first and most important step is to discuss your Personal Directive with your Agent to ensure this person understands  your wishes regarding health care, accommodation, people with whom you may live and associate, and your participation in social, educational and employment activities.

Secondly, you should discuss your Personal Directive with your doctor. Your doctor should place a copy in your medical file. If your doctor is unwilling to provide medical care pursuant to the directions set out in your Personal Directive including, if that is your wish, withdrawal of medical treatment, it may be advisable to seek another, more understanding, doctor.

The third step is to talk about your Personal Directive with family members or anyone else who may be called upon to assist in making decisions.

Is my Personal Directive limited in any way?

An Agent named in a Personal Directive cannot make decisions regarding psycho-surgery, sterilization, removal of tissue from your living body, your participation in research activities which may or may not be of benefit to you, unless you provide specific and clear authority for your Agent to allow such medical treatment.

In addition, an Agent can be required to account to any interested person and is required to keep a record of all personal decisions made on your behalf.

How long will my Personal Directive remain effective?

Your Personal Directive is effective until it is revoked or until your death. However, we recommend that you re-date and initial your Personal Directive periodically (at least once every three years) after checking whether you have changed your mind about the directions to your Agent. The more recent the date, the more likely it is that your physician or a court will accept the Personal Directive if some confusion about your wishes arises.  

How can I revoke my Personal Directive?

There are a number of ways that a Personal Directive can be revoked. If you make a second Personal Directive after your first one, then the first one is revoked to the extent of any inconsistencies. Second, you can revoke your Personal Directive by writing down your intention to revoke it. Third, you can indicate in your Personal Directive that it will be revoked when a specified event occurs or upon a certain date. Fourth, a Personal Directive can be revoked by a Court order. Finally, if your original Personal Directive is destroyed, it is revoked.

However, you must be mentally competent when you revoke your Personal Directive and you must understand the consequences of revoking it.

Can anyone revoke a Personal Directive?

No.  To revoke a Personal Directive, you must be mentally competent and understand the consequences of your actions.

Where should I keep copies of My Personal Directive?

Your original Personal Directive should be stored in a place where it is safe, but can be easily found.   Most people give copies to their Agents, their doctor(s), and their next of kin. Copies may also be given to religious advisors, lawyers, friends or anyone else who might have any decision-making capacity on your behalf. You should also write the location of your original Personal Directive on the copy given to your agent.

Is a Personal Directive applicable outside of Canada?

Your Personal Directive may not be binding in another province or country. It could, however, be useful as an advisory document.  If you intend to travel, it is a good idea to carry a copy of your signed Personal Directive as well as information concerning the whereabouts of your agent, your next of kin or others who should be consulted should the need arise.

Will my Personal Directive be honoured in an emergency situation?

Generally, in an emergency, no determination can be made as to whether the victim has a chance of survival. therefore, all possible support is mobilized to maximize the chances of recovery and your consent is presumed. When your condition has stabilized to the point where a prognosis can be made, the Personal Directive can be implemented to withdraw unwanted treatment if that is what you have provided for in your Personal Directive.

If I refuse all life-support measures, will my death be considered suicide?

No. Your death would be caused by your disease or condition, not by the withholding or withdrawal of treatment. However, if your Personal Directive attempts to provide authority for active euthanasia, as opposed to simple withdrawal of treatment, it is invalid as a matter of law.

Will doctors, nurses or health care facilities run any legal risk if they honour my Personal Directive? 

No health care provider or facility has had to face criminal or civil charges as a result of honouring a Personal Directive.  In fact, the Personal Directive can provide the basis for legal action against a health care provider if the Personal Directive is not honoured and you are treated against your wishes.

Yes, I have legal questions about Personal Directive

Please complete the form below to submit your inquiry to our Wills & Estates professionals.  We will review your request and respond as soon as possible.  Thank you.

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