What is a personal directive?
A personal directive is a legal document that records who you want to make decisions for you if you are unable. It only comes into effect if you’re too sick or injured to make decisions for yourself.
For further resources, see the personal directive section of our resource directory.
Who needs a personal directive?
Every Albertan aged 18 or older should have a personal directive.
What is involved in creating a personal directive?
When you create a personal directive, you may name the person or people you trust to make decisions for you if you are unable to – called your agent.
You can complete a personal directive on your own or with a lawyer. Once you and your witnesses sign it, it is legally binding. Your directive can be about any personal matters that are not financial, such as:
- medical treatments you do or do not want
- where you want to live
- who you would like to live with
- who will care for your children under 18 years old
- decisions about other personal or legal matters, including recreation, employment and education
What is the agent's role?
An agent is the person you name in your personal directive to make decisions for you if you are unable.
An agent must be 18 years old or older and have the mental capacity to make decisions for you when needed.
Selecting an agent takes a lot of thought. You should choose someone who:
- you trust – this does not necessarily have to be a family member.
- understands your values, wishes and beliefs.
- can make highly sensitive decisions on your behalf and will act in your best interest.
It is best to ask the person directly if they can be your agent before naming them in your personal directive.
You are also able to name more than one agent and specify how you want them to make decisions. However, an agent cannot witness your personal directive.
How is a personal directive used?
If you are too sick or injured to make a decision for yourself, your personal directive will direct your agent to make the decisions you have requested. It is also used by doctors and nurses to guide your care (see goals of care designation order).
Why is it important?
You may think of a personal directive as a gift to you and your loved ones so that during moments of stress and difficult decision making, your agent will know exactly what you want.
This removes any confusion and disagreement about how your affairs are to be managed.
If you don’t have a personal directive and doctors determine you can’t make your own decisions:
- you don’t get to choose who will make decisions for you
- a health care provider may ask your nearest relative to make decisions for you
- a family member or friend may have to go to court to become your guardian in order to make decisions for you. This takes time and money.
How do I prepare or update my personal directive?
1. Conversations are essential when preparing your personal directive. Think about health care and personal beliefs, values and wishes that matter to you or how they've changed, and start the conversation with your agent(s) and trusted ones.
Here are some tools to help you think about your values and wishes:
2. You can complete a personal directive on your own or with a lawyer. To obtain a personal directive form and instructions, visit Alberta's Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.
3. You may wish to discuss your personal directive with your health care provider and lawyer as there may be additional considerations to be aware of, depending on your situation (e.g., health status, and legal matters).
For more information, contact Alberta's Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee at email@example.com or Alberta Health Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Your personal directive may change as you grow older. Milestone events such as getting married or having children may require a review and update of your personal directive, along with other important documents (e.g., will, enduring power of attorney, goals of care designation, supported decision-making authorization).
Personal directive FAQs
Although there are exceptions, most adults can witness your personal directive, as long as they are at least 18 and have mental capacity. Examples include a neighbour, a friend or a work colleague.
There are a few people who can't witness your personal directive: anyone you have listed as a decision maker (agent) in your personal directive cannot witness it, neither can that agent’s spouse/partner.
Also, your spouse/partner cannot witness your personal directive. Other family members, however, can, provided they are 18 or older.
In Alberta, it is recommended that everyone over the age of 18 have the following three documents: a will, enduring power of attorney and a personal directive. They all do different things.
A will discusses your estate and your money, and is only shown to other people after you die. An enduring power of attorney appoints someone to manage your money and real estate if you are alive but unable to make financial decisions.
A personal directive indicates the person you have chosen to make personal and health care decisions if you become unable. It also gives you the opportunity to clarify your health care and personal wishes
If you are 18 years old or over, you are well advised to get a personal directive. Something could happen suddenly to you, like a serious injury from a car accident.
Your personal directive allows you to inform and designate someone to make health and personal decisions for you when you cannot speak for yourself.
You can hire a lawyer to get your personal directive done, or you can write it yourself for free. In Alberta, as long as your personal directive is in writing, signed, dated and witnessed it is valid.
If you’ve already prepared your will, check your documents as you may already have a personal directive.
If you write your health care wishes down they must be followed (if they apply to the situation). This provides peace of mind for you and prevents any disagreements amongst your family or loved ones.
It’s also important to write wishes and values to guide the agent. Reading your words will help them feel more confident in the decisions they are making on your behalf.
It is very difficult to make decisions for someone else, so any written wishes you can write down will be a huge help to them. And don’t forget, having conversations with your agent and the people close to you goes hand in hand with writing it down in a personal directive.
There is no specific form you have to use. As long as a personal directive is in writing, signed, dated, and witnessed it is valid.
However, to make sure you have not forgotten anything, using the template noted below will make this task easier.
Alberta’s Office of the Public Guardian & Trustee website has a nice, easy to use personal directive template with instructions that you can fill in.
No, a personal directive only comes into effect if something happens and you become unable to make your own decisions. Your personal directive would then be "activated" by specific paperwork completed in part by a doctor.
If you were to write your personal directive today, you would still be in control of all your medical/personal decisions.
Yes. As long as your personal directive is not in effect yet, you can change your agent as many times as you like. You will first have to revoke your current personal directive and write a new one naming the person who will be your new agent.
Then you should destroy old directives and give a copy of your new directive to your new agent(s) and keep one copy in your green sleeve (if you have one).
If you are unable to make your own decisions, and you do not have a personal directive, your health care provider will select someone to make decisions for you from a ranked list of relatives.
However, this may not be the person you want. This person will also not be able to make all health care decisions (e.g., end of life decisions) and will have to apply through the court to become your guardian in order to do so. This process takes time and money.
The only way to guarantee that the person you want to make your health and personal decisions will be given the legal authority to do so is by naming them in your personal directive.
My name is Miguel. I have recently been told that I have heart disease. The next time I see the specialist they want to talk with me about my health care wishes. Where do I start?