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Advance Care Planning in Ontario Explained

In this article:

    In Ontario, advance care planning is the process of having conversations with your loved ones and substitute decision-makers to prepare for future health care decisions. 

    Is an advance care plan the same as a health care directive?

    Having advance care planning conversations doesn’t mean you’re consenting to future treatment like a health care directive. But it can help you and your loved ones understand your wishes for future health care decisions if you become unable to communicate your wishes yourself. 

    In this article, we’ll look more into the legal aspects of advance health care planning and end-of-life care in Ontario, including what advance directives and power of attorney documents are, how the law works for documenting health care wishes, substitute decision-makers, and how you can make sure your own preferences are respected in critical health situations.

    What is an advance directive?

    While advanced directives and living wills exist, they aren’t legally recognized in Ontario. Instead, Ontario residents can use a power of attorney for personal care

    Are advanced directives legal in Ontario?

    Healthcare professionals in Ontario are required to respect valid documentation of a patient’s wishes. While advance directives or living wills are not recognized in Ontario legislation, they will still be recognized by the substitute decision-maker as the patient’s written wishes. 

    A patient can also express their wishes orally and those wishes will be respected.

    But it’s important to note that a patient’s most recent wishes will take priority over all other previous ones, whether they are written or orally delivered. 

    For a patient who cannot give their consent about procedures, patient rights in Ontario dictate that healthcare professionals need to consult the patient’s attorney for personal care to make a decision. 

    If there is no attorney, the decision would fall on an automatic substitute decision-maker.

    The easiest way to create a legal POA and will in Canada. Start yours for free →

    Find out everything you need to know about POAs in Ontario →

    What is a power of attorney for personal care?

    A power of attorney for health and personal care document is where you can include your healthcare wishes and appoint someone to be your personal care decision-maker. 

    This decision-maker is called your attorney for personal care. They are responsible for following your healthcare wishes and also making decisions for you when you are unable to make decisions yourself. They would have the ability to make decisions about life support, pain medication, housing, meals and clothing.

    Legal requirements in Ontario

    There are some requirements you need to meet to make a legally-valid power of attorney document and appoint someone for medical decision-making in Ontario:

    • You must be mentally capable at the time of signing
    • You must be the age of majority in Ontario (At least 18 years old to make a power of attorney for property and at least 16 years old to make a power of attorney for personal care)
    • You need to physically sign your document, and you must do so in front of two witnesses who must also sign it

    What are the four steps to advance care planning?

    As long as you meet legal requirements, you can complete your advance care plan in just four steps.

    1. Think about your wishes

    What are your wishes, values and beliefs about your future care? What kind of pain medication would you like, and which would you reject? Do you have any concerns about being on life support? These are all things to consider before speaking to your substitute decision-maker.

    1. Choose your substitute decision-maker

    A substitute decision-maker (SDM) makes decisions about your care and treatments if you cannot make decisions yourself. All residents of Ontario have a list of automatic SDMs, based on spouses and next of kin. To appoint someone who is not on your list, or to make someone on the list your first SDM, you’ll need to appoint them as your attorney in a power of attorney for personal care document. Willful makes it easy to appoint both an attorney for personal care and a backup attorney.

    1. Talk to your loved ones about your wishes

    Discuss your wishes with your loved ones and your selected attorney or substitute decision maker. If you’ve chosen someone as an attorney, make sure they are legally eligible for the role and comfortable with taking on the responsibilities involved in being your attorney for personal care.

    1. Record your wishes

    Document your wishes and appoint your attorney in a power of attorney for personal care document. Make your POA for personal care easily with Willful →

    Choosing a substitute decision-maker

    To be eligible as an SDM in Ontario, a person must be:

    • 16 years or older
    • capable of providing consent
    • willing to accept the role
    • available when decisions need to be made

    As your attorney for personal care, your chosen person should have good judgment and be someone you can trust to act in your best interest. 

    Someone cannot act as your attorney for personal care if:

    • they are under 16 years old
    • they are incapable of personal care
    • they are prevented from accessing you by a court order or separation agreement
    • they are your healthcare provider for compensation
    • they provide residential, social, training or support services for compensation (unless they are your spouse/partner/relative)

    It’s important to note that like an executor, an attorney for personal can receive compensation.

    Steps to create a power of attorney for personal care

    Once you decide who you’d like your attorney for personal care to be and have received their consent to take on the role, you can appoint them as your attorney in a power of attorney document. Completing one is easy:

    Step 1: Pick how to make your document

    There are several ways to create your power of attorney document. You can use a fill-in-the-blank form, an online platform, or a lawyer. Of the three options, online platforms like Willful give you the best value by being legal, easy and affordable. With Willful, you can also make unlimited updates to your document for free.

    Step 2: Document your wishes

    If you choose to make your power of attorney document with Willful, the platform guides you through important questions to make sure your power of attorney for personal care document reflects your wishes. The platform also gives you access to a team of experts if you need help during the process. 

    Even better, Willful also offers legal wills in Ontario, if you’d like to make your will as well!

    Step 3: Sign and witness

    In Ontario, a power of attorney document is legal once it’s been properly completed, signed and witnessed. So long as you have the capacity and sign in the presence of two valid witnesses who also sign the document, your power of attorney for personal care is legal. 

    Certain people are not allowed to be witnesses. These include: 

    • your spouse, partner, or child (or someone you treat as your child) 
    • the appointed attorney or their spouse or partner
    • a person whose property is under guardianship 
    • a person who lacks mental capacity
    • a person under the age of 18

    And that’s it! Your attorney has been appointed and you’re all set. Remember to keep the document in a safe place and let your attorney and loved ones know where it is. 

    Make sure information about your attorney’s name, address and telephone number is updated and accessible for your loved ones and healthcare providers, should they ever need it.

    Updating your documents

    You should review your power of attorney for personal care every few years, just as you would your will, as your circumstances and preferences might change.  

    This is especially the case as you grow older and your health and medical needs change. More on estate planning for seniors here.

    If you’ve already made your power of attorney or will on Willful, you can easily update them for free by logging back into your account and editing your documents. Once you’ve made your changes, simply print your new documents, sign and witness them, and they’re legal. 

    Make sure to destroy the old versions of your documents to avoid any confusion in the future.

    Have you been named a beneficiary in a will? Read more here →

    Help your parents with advance care planning with this guide.

    Common misconceptions and challenges

    I’m not old or sick. Why would I need an advance care plan?

    No one can predict the future. If you ever fall seriously ill or are involved in an accident that makes you unable to communicate your wishes, what will happen? 

    Planning for incapacity in an advance care plan and power of attorney documents can help your loved ones know your wishes and give you peace of mind for important decisions about your healthcare. 

    If I have automatic substitute decision-makers, why do I need an attorney?

    While your family might know your healthcare wishes, appointing an attorney for personal care will ensure your medical and personal care needs are met based on your exact directives, which provides an added layer of support and representation in critical situations. There is no guesswork, no fighting over who makes the decision for you; just your wishes and your appointed representative.

    How do you initiate advance care planning?

    Making your advance care documents in Ontario shouldn’t be hard. With Willful, it isn’t. 

    You can complete your power of attorney for personal care documents and other estate planning documents, notify your loved ones, and get peace of mind, all in less than 30 minutes. And all without breaking the bank. 


    Peace of mind is just a click away →

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