What is a Personal Directive?
In Alberta, the Personal Directives Act creates Personal Directives.
A Personal Directive is a written, signed, dated and witnessed legal document. In this document, you (called the Maker) give someone else (called your Agent) the right to make decisions for you with respect to personal, non-financial matters while you are still alive.
Sometimes this document is called a “Living Will” but, in Alberta, the correct legal term is “Personal Directive”.
A Personal Directive does not give someone authority to make decisions about your finances if you no longer have mental capacity – for that you need a separate document called an Enduring Power of Attorney.
Without a Personal Directive, your family or another interested party will have to apply to the court under Alberta’s Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act to become your guardian. This court process can take months, is complex, and can be very expensive. It may also result in someone making decisions for you that you would not have chosen.
When does a Personal Directive come into effect?
Your Personal Directive comes into effect when you no longer have mental capacity to make personal decisions. It only applies while you are still alive and comes to an end when you die.
You can choose one of two ways for the Personal Directive to come into effect:
- You can designate someone in your Personal Directive to determine your mental capacity. This person must consult with a physician or psychologist before making a written declaration that you lack capacity.
- If you do not designate a person to determine your capacity or this person is unable or unwilling or cannot be contacted, then two services providers (at least one must be a physician or psychologist) must make a written declaration that you lack capacity.
What can an Agent do?
Your Agent will be able to make almost any personal decision that you can, unless you specifically limit their powers.
Your Agent is responsible for:
- consulting with you before making a personal decision
- making personal and non-financial decisions for you for what may turn out to be a long period of time
- making decisions about medical treatments for you (e.g.: medical procedures, chiropractors, naturopaths, massage therapists, immunization issues, chemotherapy, end of life decisions)
- making decisions about where you live and who you will live with
- making decisions about your personal activities (recreation, social, employment or education)
- following any clear instructions set out in your Personal Directive
- if there are no clear instructions, making decisions they believe you would have made based on their knowledge of your wishes, beliefs and values
- if there are no clear instructions and the Agent does not know your wishes, beliefs or values, then making decisions they believe are in your best interests
- keeping a record of all decisions made on your behalf and saving these records for at least two years after they are no longer your Agent
- providing you or your lawyer with a list of decisions they made for you, whenever asked
An Agent cannot authorize:
- psychosurgery as defined in the Mental Health Act
- sterilization that is not medically necessary to protect the Maker’s health
- participation by the Maker in research or experimental activities, if the participation offers little or no potential benefit to the Maker
- removal of tissue from the Maker’s living body for implantation in the body of another living person pursuant to the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Act or for medical education or research purposes (i.e. being a living donor)
What other documents might I need?
In Alberta, a Goals of Care Designation (GCD) is a medical order used to describe and communicate the general aim or focus of care. There are three levels of care: medical care, comfort care and resuscitative care.
Your Goals of Care Designation is usually kept in a Green Sleeve. A Green Sleeve is a green plastic pocket that holds your advance care planning forms, including your Personal Directive and Advance Care Planning/Goals of Care Designation Tracking Record. The Alberta government recommends that you keep your Green Sleeve on or near your fridge as that is where healthcare providers, such as paramedics, are trained to look for it.
For more information, see the following CPLEA resources:
- Making a Personal Directive booklet
- Personal Directive Checklist
- Personal Directives, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Wills video
- Being an Agent booklet
If you would like copies of any of the above booklets, you can order them for free.