Some people think that “having your affairs in order” begins and ends with having a will in place. But a will only stipulates what should happen to your estate (your belongings and assets) after you die. It doesn’t say anything about who can decide what should happen to you or your property before you die if you’re in a position where you can’t decide for yourself.
Suppose you’re incapacitated because of a medical condition. Except in a medical emergency, a physician will need to obtain your consent before providing any necessary treatment. If you’re not able to provide that consent, they need to get it from someone else.
Who would you want that person to be? Who do you trust to make that sort of decision on your behalf?
In Ontario, a power of attorney for personal care is a legal document that allows you to specify in advance who that person will be.
Let’s say you develop dementia and at some point can no longer make informed choices about the care you receive on a day-to-day basis. A power of attorney for personal care specifies who can make those choices on your behalf – things like where you live, what you eat, who helps you dress and wash yourself, what you wear, and who ensures your safety.
Keep in mind that the only time your substitute decision maker should be asked to step in is if you’re incapable of making the decision yourself.
That’s how things work in Ontario. Laws about powers of attorney, proxy decision makers, and advance care planning vary from province to province and country to country.
You can learn more about powers of attorney for personal care in Ontario by reading our article on the topic or visiting the website for Ontario’s Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.
You can download a Power of Attorney for Personal Care form from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General’s website. You can complete it yourself or involve a lawyer.
Be sure to discuss this with the person you designate as your substitute decision maker ahead of time. It’s also wise to inform other members of your family so there are no disputes when someone needs to step in on your behalf.
You may be tempted to designate more than one person to act as your substitute decision maker so that you don’t appear to be favouring one person over the other. But this can be problematic, particularly if you specify that they have to act jointly. If they don’t agree on a choice that needs to be made on your behalf at some point in the future, it may delay personal care you need.
Whoever you designate as your substitute decision maker, talk with them about what’s important to you and what wishes you have regarding future care (if any).
Navigating conversations with your family on this topic can be tricky. If you’re feeling stuck, don't hesitate to contact us. We’ve helped hundreds of families in the Ottawa area sort out decisions regarding personal care. We can give you tips on how to approach power of attorney discussions and avoid common pitfalls.