Personal choice and self-determination are highly important elements to us as human beings. But have you ever thought who would make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so?
Your right to decide – about your own care, where you want to live, what you want to eat, what you want to wear, when you want to bathe, who you want to look after you, where to spend your money – these are probably the most important decisions that allow us to feel in control of our own life and our own destiny.
These are the decisions most people take for granted, the decisions we think we will always be able to make for ourselves. But what if one day you can’t? What if either a long illness or a sudden injury robs you of your decision-making ability? Who will make these decisions for you? Have you given this thought? Have you discussed it with someone else? Have you asked someone to make decisions for you should you become unable to do so? Have you done so in writing? Have you discussed your wishes in the event that you become incapable?
While this is not a topic anyone likes to address, it is very important to raise and discuss this with people you care about while you are capable, regardless of age or situation, because none of us knows what tomorrow will bring.
Planning for what you would like to happen, in the event that you need someone else to make decisions for you in the future, is called Advance Care Planning, and the legal documents that support this are a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property. Every person over 18 should have both.
A Power of Attorney for Personal Care is a legal document that appoints one or more people the right to make decisions on your behalf that specifically relate to your care or treatment if you are deemed incapable of making those decisions for yourself. Your ‘attorney’ should be the person or persons you trust as they are your ‘substitute decision maker(s)’. They do not need to be a lawyer or anyone with a legal background, but should be someone who knows you and what you would want in most situations. While they may not share your values and beliefs, they should understand them and be willing and able to uphold them, in the event that they are asked to make a decision on your behalf.
It would be best if you have conversations with that person (or if there was more than one person that you wanted to act in conjunction, persons) about your wishes in the event that you require care or medical intervention in the future.
A Power of Attorney for Personal Care is NOT the same as a ‘living will’. A living will is NOT a legal document nor is it a substitute for one. It can be composed as a letter or any other format that can be a part of, or attached to, your Power of Attorney for Personal Care indicating your wishes about treatment and personal care. It is not a necessary document though some find it a good way to detail their wishes to their loved ones to ensure that what they want is known. It may provide more assurance that one’s wishes are known and will be followed, rather than simply discussing things.
A Continuing Power of Attorney for Property is a legal document that allows at least one person to act on your behalf if you become incapable of managing your financial affairs. This person can be, but does not have to be, the same person as your substitute decision maker. You should trust that the person or persons can properly manage your financial affairs as they will have full authority to manage your money and property.
You do not need a lawyer to draft your Powers of Attorney, though it would be wise to consult one and have him or her prepare the necessary documents. There are some basic components all Powers of Attorney must include in order to be valid, so if you choose not to have a lawyer create one for you, you may download a basic form from the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/pgt/poa.pdf. This form can then be completed on your own. Once you have completed your Powers of Attorney, keep the originals in a safe place and make sure that you have at least one copy that is easily accessible. Ensure those you have asked to be your attorney(s) are aware of their potential responsibilities and tell them of the whereabouts of the original documents.
For more information regarding this topic, you can download A Guide to Advance Care Planning from the website of the Ontario Seniors Secretariat at www.seniors.gov.on.ca/en/advancedcare/index.php. You can also download detailed information, as well as questions and answers on Powers of Attorney from the website for Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee at www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/pgt/livingwillqa.pdf. You may also contact a lawyer in your community who is familiar with drafting Wills and Powers of Attorney, and who can answer any questions you might have.
Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW is a former acute care hospital social worker and the author of the “Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living and Long-Term Care™” now in its 15th edition. She also administers the affiliated national website www.senioropolis.com and lectures on Eldercare issues in various venues. For further information on this and other topics related to seniors and relocation visit www.senioropolis.com.