Personal Directive

stylized illustrations of people and leaves

What is a personal directive?

It's a legal document that records who you want to make decisions for you if you are unable. It only comes into effect when you're still alive but unable to make your own decisions.

For further resources, see the personal directive section of our resource directory.

Why is it important?

It 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 – this may not be the person you want making 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.

Who needs a personal directive?

Every Albertan aged 18 or older should have a personal directive.

What does it involve?

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 on your behalf.

You should choose someone who:

  • you trust – this does not necessarily have to be a family member.
  • understands your preferences.
  • 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.

You are also able to name more than one agent and specify how you want them to make decisions. An agent cannot also be a witness to a 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).

How do I prepare or update my personal directive?

1. Think about your health care preferences and start the conversation with your agent(s) and the people closest to you.

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 the Alberta government's Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee website.

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 (e.g., health status, and legal matters).

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 order, 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, a work colleague or an adult family member who is not your spouse/partner.

There are a few people who can't be a witness to your personal directive: your spouse/partner, your agent(s) or your agents’ spouses/partners.

Yes. A will deals strictly with your estate and only takes effect after you die. You can’t communicate your wishes for future medical care through a will.

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 serve different purposes.

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.

You can but you don’t have to. You can always write one 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 with a lawyer, check your documents as you may already have a personal directive.

If you write down your health care wishes, 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 your preferences to guide the agent. Reading your words will help them feel more confident about the decisions they are making on your behalf.

It is very difficult to make decisions for someone else, so any written instructions you can write down will be a huge help to them.

You’re not required to use a specific form. If your personal directive is in writing, signed, dated and witnessed it is valid.

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 you become unable to make your own decisions. Your personal directive is then "activated" by specific paperwork completed in part by a doctor.

If you write your personal directive today, you will still be in control of all your medical/personal decisions.

Yes. As long as your personal directive is not activated, 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). 

Without a personal directive, your health care provider will select someone to make decisions for you from a ranked list of relatives.

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 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 have the legal authority to do so is by naming them in your personal directive.

stylized illustration of people

New diagnosis?

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 choices. Where do I start? How do I keep track of everything? How can I be sure my choices will be followed?

Goals of Care Designation Order