The Living Will and Power of Attorney: Security for the future

“The only normal ones are the ones you don’t know”. Perhaps a harsh statement but I would suggest that all of us have had some issues within our own families- whether it be sibling rivalry or parental conflict at some time or another. Our personalities don’t necessarily change as we age, in fact some would say that our idiosyncrasies are perhaps enhanced and maybe even more annoying to others than they were previously.

In my work with families, I see many of whom are in conflict with one another- and particularly ugly, are conflicts between siblings as it relates to care issues for their parent(s). Most often than not, money has something to do with it.

The purpose of this article is not to judge or scorn but to see if there is some way to avoid this pitfall. No matter what age we may be, if we can avoid familial conflict or at least reduce it in some way, and then a positive step has been taken.

What have I learned?

Most often conflict exists when the parent’s wishes are not known and at the time that care is required- or at least the time that care is requested (which is often a different time frame), the parent may not be able to voice their opinion. No matter your perspective – whether you are an adult child or a parent dealing with adult children reading this article (or both), if you have not already done son, it is a good time to start an open dialogue.

If you are not in a position to communicate it orally, then write it down- consider both a living will and a power of attorney- for both personal care and property. A “living will” contains your written instructions about what level of medical treatment you want in the event that you are unable to express your wishes verbally. For instance, you may want all possible measures taken to keep you alive – or you could instruct that nothing be done to keep you alive. For example, a do not resuscitate (DNR) order. You could also be very specific about what treatments you want, depending on the condition you are in. A living will would also specify whether you wanted to donate your organs when you die. Living wills enable people to make their own decisions, and ensure that others are aware of these decisions which takes a great deal of pressure off family members to make difficult decisions regarding your care.

A living will is not a legal term in Canada and so it is important that once you have drafted this document, you also draft a power of attorney for personal care who will be able to carry out the directives you have set out in your living will. The document can be drafted by a lawyer – or you could do it yourself, as long as you follow all the steps that make such documents legal in your home province or territory. You should also distribute copies of your living will to key people like family members, your doctor and lawyer and be sure to regularly review and update your living will from time to time.