Who decides when you can’t?
Personal choice. Self-determination. Your right to decide about your own care: Where you want to live; what you want to eat; who you want to look after you; where to spend your money these choices, and our ability to make them for ourselves, allow us to feel in control of our own lives.
By Esther Karen Hemi Goldstein
Most people take these decisions granted; we think we will always be able to choose for ourselves. But what if, one day, you can’t? What if, either because of an illness that gradually robs you of the ability to make these choices or an injury that does so suddenly, your ability to decide is taken away from you? Who will make these decisions for you?
While this is not something that anyone likes to talk about, the reality is that it is a very important thing to raise and discuss with the people you care about, regardless of your 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.” The legal documents that support this in Ontario are the power of attorney (PoA) for personal care and continuing PoA for property. Every person over 18 years of age should have both.
PoA for Personal Care is a legal document that appoints one or more people to make decisions specifically relating to your care or treatment if you are deemed incapable of making those decisions for yourself. Your “attorney,” also known as your “substitute decision-maker,” should be a person or people you trust. You should select someone who knows you and what you would want in most situations. While your substitute decision-maker doesn’t need to 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 is best to have conversations with that person (or persons) about your wishes in the event that you require care or medical intervention in the future.
Continuing PoA 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 handle your financial affairs, as they will have full authority to manage your money and property.
You do not need a lawyer to draft your PoAs, although it would be wise to consult one and have them prepare the necessary documents. There are some basic components all PoAs need to have in order to be valid, so if you choose not to have a lawyer create one for you, consider downloading a basic form from the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/pgt/poa.pdf) that can be completed on your own.
Once you have completed your PoAs, 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.
Esther Karen Hemi Goldstein works on senioropolis.com. Esther worked as a hospital social worker in Toronto for 12 years, primarily with the geriatric population.