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Planning for Personal Care Issues - the Empowering Journey

Everyone knows about the shift in demographics in our society. People are living longer; it is estimated that one in ten Canadians born today will live to be 100! An aging population puts financial strains on individual, corporate and government resources, trying to keep up with unexpected demands and unplanned-for expenses. The strain of trying to find the best way to pay for necessary expenses as we age can be matched or surpassed by the strain of dealing with issues of personal care. We would like to challenge you to take an "empowering journey" to help alleviate and perhaps even eliminate this strain.

As you know, a power of attorney for personal care allows a person to appoint decision-maker(s), called attorney(s) for personal care, to make personal care decisions if they are incapable of doing so for themselves. A person can also set down instructions and wishes, which will be legally binding under Ontario law on the attorney(s) for personal care, unless such wishes are impossible or unreasonable to carry out. These wishes can include any and all aspects of medical treatment and personal care, such as: therapeutic medical treatments including surgery, prescription drugs, end of life decisions, preventive health care, palliative treatments, diagnostic tests and treatments, cosmetic treatments, admission to a hospital or other treatments facility, admission to a long-term care facility, personal assistance help and care, housing decisions, food choices, clothing choices, entertainment and decoration choices.

Although many people have a power of attorney for personal care, most do not give much thought to providing guidance to their attorney(s) for personal care in making specific decisions for the person's care. We may think these issues are of limited interest when we are healthy and competent to make our own decisions, and understandably so. But perhaps the time to make our wishes known, to consider what those wishes might be and who is best situated and best able to act on those wishes when we are no longer able to do so ourselves, is now.

You may be asking yourself, "Why should I make this a priority now? Won't my attorney for personal care know how to make decisions as and when they come up?"

Your attorney(s) will almost certainly welcome some guidance, a roadmap, to assist them in making decisions, to reassure them that the decisions they are making are in accordance with what you would have wanted, when you were best able to consider the full ramifications of your choices. This reassurance can also be helpful for your other family members and friends who are not your attorney(s) to know that the decisions made are in keeping with the incapable person's wishes. This is true for "large" decisions, such as care at home versus care in a facility or certain life-or-death medical decisions, and as well for "small" decisions, such as clothing choices or food options.

Lack of direction can result in care that does not reflect your wishes, even if it is well-meaning and enacted with thought and love. It can leave your attorney(s) for personal care and family and friends with difficult decisions and doubts, and can lead to disagreements, arguments and even court action to resolve problems.

The benefits of future care planning are not just to assist attorney(s), family and friends. Each one of us can derive significant benefits from considering and writing down their wishes at an early point in our lives. The benefit of ensuring as best we can that our wishes are understood and will be followed is usually paramount. Thinking about our future care can also assist us to plan for the financial resources to fund our wishes. However, in addition, taking control of these issues, thinking about them and talking about them, can start each of us on a journey of self-reflection, making proactive decisions, and creating a concrete, specific plan which will empower us and our future attorney(s) and caregivers - an empowering journey.

- Susannah B. Roth

Look for our next blog on testamentary freedom.

The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal or tax advice on any individual situation. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.

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