How To Write A Personal Directive

You never know what life may throw your way. Whether it’s an unforeseen illness, sudden heart attack or a severe car accident, it’s best to be prepared for the unexpected.

Do you know who would make your medical care, housing, and day-to-day decisions if something ever happened to you? Planning for your future is one of the best investments you can make for yourself and your family, and it starts by having a personal directive.


Alberta does not have living wills. Instead, they are referred to as a personal directive. A personal directive is a legal document that allows you to assign someone (referred to as your agent) to make decisions if you suffer a serious injury or illness – like a car accident or stroke. Your directive only comes into effect when you are still alive but no longer have the mental capacity to make decisions.

The Alberta law does not allow for another person to make decisions for you automatically. If you do not have a personal directive, a physician may select a family member on your behalf for health care or residential placement decisions. Depending on how long your ability to make decisions is affected, your family may have to apply to the courts to become your guardian.

If you take the time to prepare a personal directive now, you can ensure that your personal decisions are made by someone you trust, who knows your wishes, and who has a similar belief system as you.

To prepare to write your personal directive, follow these steps:

Step 1: Choose Your Agent(s)

Your agent is the person or persons you name in your directive. They will be the person making decisions on your behalf should anything ever happen to you. You can choose to have more than one agent – a primary and alternate agent. The alternate agent will only make decisions on your behalf if the primary agent is unwilling or unable.

You can also have your agents act at the same time (co-agents). In this case, it’s important to decide if you want them to act together (jointly) or if they can act separately as well (severally and jointly). If they can act severally, that means one of your agents can act alone.

Naming co-agents can make things complicated – especially if decisions need to be made quickly. If you decide to do this, you will want to indicate a way for them to resolve a dispute if one should arise.

There are a few things to take into consideration when choosing an agent(s):

  • They must be 18 years of age and mentally capable.
  • Be willing to act as your agent – make sure to ask them directly if they are comfortable taking on this responsibility.
  • Choose someone that is trustworthy, responsible, and honest.
  • Though not mandatory, it is convenient if they live in the same province as you.

Note: You do not have to choose a family member to be your agent. You can select trusted friends as well.

Step 2: Write your Personal Directive

You can create a personal directive on your own. Although there are no specific guidelines to follow, to be considered a legal document, it must:

  • Be in writing (by hand or typed by computer).
  • Dated
  • Signed by you (in the presence of a witness)
  • Signed by a witness (in your presence). Note: Your witness cannot be the person you have appointed as your personal directive.

The Government of Alberta has a Personal Directive form you can use to get started. Though it’s a great starting point, writing a personal directive can feel a bit overwhelming.

Though it is not required to hire a lawyer to write your directive, they can help make the process easier. Lawyers know what questions or situations a person should take into consideration when determining their wishes, such as:

  • If you want your agent to be compensated for any expenses like parking, cab fares, or comfort items in the hospital room.
  • What point you would want your agent to refrain from live-saving interventions.
  • Medical procedures you do not wish to undertake.
  • And more.

At McGuiness Law, we can help answer any questions you have and make sure your instructions and wishes are clear.


Step 3: Give Out Copies

Once your directive is written and signed by witnesses, it is highly suggested that you give a copy to the following people:

  • Yourself! Make sure to store it in a safe place and let your agents or family/friends know where it is located in case they need to access it quickly.
  • Your agent(s). These are the people you appointed to make decisions on your behalf.
  • Your lawyer. It’s suggested that your lawyer keeps the original copy with specific instructions about when to release it.
  • Your Physician. Particularly important if you have a known medical illness.
  • Register your directive with Alberta’s Personal Directives Registry. In doing so, health care professionals can see that you have a personal directive and can contact your agents.

Step 4: Review Your Personal Directive

It’s a good idea to review your directive at least once a year. Maybe you had a falling out with one of your agents, got divorced, or someone passed away.

Your values and beliefs may have also changed. By reviewing your directive every year, you can decide if you need to make any updates or write a brand new one.

Talking about worst-case scenarios with your loved ones can be an uncomfortable conversation. However, you might be surprised by what your partner or family member/friend’s wishes are. By taking the time to write a directive now, while you are healthy and mentally capable, you can help to alleviate extra stress your family and friends may experience during a time of heartache and pain.

If you want to make sure your wishes are clearly communicated in your directive, reach out to McGuiness Law. We can also help you create a mirrored will, which includes a Will, Personal Directive, and Power of Attorney. Contact our team at (780) 900-7941 for more information.