Considerations for health care directives; strategies for you and your agent

Your agent, a key role for effective estate planning and administration

By ATB Wealth 7 July 2020 2 min read

There are three documents essential to an effective estate plan – your will, enduring power of attorney, and personal directive. Who you choose to act in the roles of estate executor and trustee, attorney, and agent are critically important for effective estate planning, and ultimately, successful estate administration.


Your agent: Managing your personal care in the event of your mental incapacity

In your personal directive, the people you appoint as your medical and personal care decision-makers are called your agents.


Your medical and personal care wishes

Ideally, you and your agent(s) should share the same or similar values concerning standards of personal care and end-of-life decisions. It is very important that you fully discuss your wishes regarding possible medical care decisions with your agent(s). You should also list any wishes regarding specific medical procedures, such as organ transplants or donation, in your personal directive.


Naming agents

In spousal situations, it is customary that you name each other as your primary agent, and if you have children, name one or more of them as your contingent agent(s). It is always prudent to name both first and second contingent agents, but this is not required.

If you are naming multiple agents, you want to be sure that they will be able to work together for your benefit and incorporate some mechanism to deal with any disputes as to your care. As was the case with your executors and attorneys, the location of your agent is important, but not quite as much as it is for those roles. All of your agent’s current contact information should be attached to your personal directive and be updated, as required.


Registering your agent

In Alberta’s Personal Directives Act, a “Personal Directives Registry” was established. You do not register your actual personal directive document, rather, you register the date that your personal directive was written and executed, the names and contact information for your agent(s), your contact information, and any order of priority for agents if you have listed more than one.

The Registry will contact your agent(s) to ensure they are aware of their appointment and that their contact information is correct. In the event of a hospital admission or similar event where decisions as to your care have to be made and you cannot make them, the Registry can be accessed and your agent(s) will be contacted.


A letter of wishes: Assisting your agent with their duties

A letter of wishes or letter of direction for your agent(s) is a very useful tool that provides non-binding guidance as to how you would like them to exercise their duties, if and when circumstances arise.

These letters can be particularly helpful for family members as they provide some explanation from you for your decisions, helping to resolve any disputes that could arise between them. Such letters can be changed as circumstances evolve and should be kept in the same place as you keep your other documents.

You also may want to have separate letters that would apply specifically to your will, enduring power of attorney, and personal directive. It is also a good idea to review them with the people you have chosen to fulfill the associated roles.


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