Definitions for POA and Health Care Directives

Posted by on Sep 8, 2010 in Planning, Power of Attorney, Powers of Attorney |

There are two types of “power of attorney”: one for finances and one for decisions about health and personal care.

Both documents are drawn up by a person with “capacity”, i.e. the ability to make reasoned decisions, who wants to decide on his or her wishes for future medical care and treatment and personal care – in the event they are not able to give informed consent.

This document is also known as a living will or health care directive may, and may contain or include:

  • Appointment of a “proxy” who will assume responsibility for ensuring the person’s wishes are respected
  • Health and personal care wishes that must be followed by health care providers, where the wishes are reasonable, possible, and legal.
The first type is called a proxy directive. All provinces, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories allow proxy directives.The second type is called an instructional directive.  Several provinces allow this type of directive, as well as the proxy directive.

Why have a directive? Manitoba Health provides this general suggestion for writing a health care directive, or “living will.”

“Due to accident or illness, you may become unable to say or show what treatment you would like, and under what conditions. If you have signed a directive, those close to you and the health care professionals treating you are relieved of the burden of guessing what your wishes might be.” 

Each province has specific legislation regarding health care directives. The ElderWise Guide, “Decide For Yourself”, provides web links to the specific details for each Canadian province and territory. You must comply with the legislation in your parent’s province if the directive is being prepared for them.

Here is a scenario that is all too common for families who do not have advance care planning in place (names changed to protect privacy): 

Clarence was 87 years old and had not named anyone to speak on his behalf. When his niece raised the topic, he said: “You’ll be there for me – and I know you will do the right thing.” But when Clarence had a stroke and was temporarily in a coma, his niece was unable to legally speak on his behalf because she had not been specifically named as Clarence’s personal representative. 

  • Research the information that applies to your province (“Decide for Yourself” includes web resources for all provinces and territories).
  • Discuss medical treatments, such as a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, with your doctor.
  • Decide who will speak on your behalf AND get their consent.
  • Write the directive yourself – or get help from a lawyer.
  • Provide copies of the directive to your family, your doctor, and the person(s) named in the directive.

    Get full details about the contents of

    “Decide for Yourself”

    Vol. 5, No. 8 © ElderWise Publishing 2009.
    You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise, Canada’s go-to place for “age-smart” planning. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter. 




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