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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do you need a lawyer to do a personal directive?

Yesterday I had a seminar (yes, I do a lot of these!) with a group of customers from the main branch of Scotiabank in Edmonton. One of the questions I was asked during the session, and which I've been asked a number of times before, is whether a person must have a lawyer to draw up a Personal Directive.

A Personal Directive is a document that appoints someone to make health-care and personal decisions (such as where to live) for you if you can no longer make those decisions for yourself due to diminishing mental capacity.

You can make a legally effective Personl Directive without a lawyer. But as I always tell people who want to know what they "can" do, the question is not whether you can do it, but whether you should do it.

Remember that legal documents like this give people a lot of power over you. You need to be sure that they are done right.

Also remember that it's really easy to make mistakes when you make your own documents. People don't always fully understand legal terms or the consequences of certain words. One of the things people say to me when we discuss Personal Directives is that they want a "DNR" (do not resuscitate) provision in their document. Usually what people mean is that if they are dying of a chronic disease, such as cancer, and the disease takes a turn for the worse, they don't want to be kept alive artificially. But that's not what DNR means. DNR means "do not take any steps to bring me back no matter what the circumstances". So, if the person has, say, a heart attack from which he or she would normally be expected to recover, but has DNR on the document, the medical staff won't take action.

When I explain this to people, they are usually horrified at the idea that they almost made a huge error like this. As I said, it's easy to make this, and many other, mistakes and not even know it if you prepare your own documents. To keep costs down, most people have Personal Directives made at the same time as their Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney.

If however, you have decided that you want to do your own Personal Directive, either for financial reasons, because you are geographically isolated and don't have access to a lawyer, or for any other reason, please look at the Government of Alberta website first. Click here to access it. This site has clear explanations, a precedent document, and information about the provincial Personal Directive registry.

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