We all worry about getting hurt and becoming unable to look after ourselves or make our own decisions. Living wills are specialized documents that provide detailed instructions for your physical care if you are unable to communicate those wishes yourself.

The term “living will” has no legal meaning in Canada. In Ontario, the term used is “power of attorney for personal care (PAPC).” Also sometimes referred to as a health-care proxy or a durable power of attorney, this document allows you to appoint an agent to make decisions on your behalf regarding your personal health care if you can’t communicate your decisions yourself. Unlike a last will and testament, a power of attorney for personal care is accessed when you are alive and implemented by a person your appoint. This document is for health care purposes only and won’t give your representative access to your daily finances.

The person you appoint must be someone you know has genuine concern for your welfare as they will have to make decisions for you. This individual must be over 16 years of age and can’t be someone who is paid to provide health care services for you, such as someone who is employed by your retirement facility or a personal support care worker.

Your PAPC might state that you want no extraordinary measures taken to keep you alive, or that you want every measure taken—it’s your decision. It can also provide very specific instructions for your treatment.

Caregivers and medical professionals can use the PAPC as part of your ongoing care plan, taking your wishes into consideration. For example, you may wish to provide a “values history” that includes religious background, morals, and personal philosophies. It may also include information on personal health experiences and medical diagnoses. A “medical directive” may provide examples of specific medical scenarios and instructions of how these should be responded to.

A PAPC only becomes valid, if you are rendered medically incompetent. The assessment of competence takes into consideration your capacity for decision-making. Competence is assessed based on your reception of information, analysis of the information, the ability to provide an appropriate response and your ability to sustain that analysis and response over time.

If a “living will” or PAPC is something of interest to you, ask your lawyer for assistance. you may also wish to have your doctor review your plans.