What Is The Difference Between A Will And A Power Of Attorney In BC?

A will outlines your wishes for you after you pass away while a power of attorney gives someone the authority to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself.
In British Columbia, there are two types of power of attorney documents — enduring power of attorney and representation agreements.
Your enduring power of attorney designates someone to make decisions related to your property and finances (such as paying bills and selling assets). The representation agreement, on the other hand, appoints a representative to handle future decision making about your personal care (including healthcare, nutrition and shelter).

A Representation Agreement in which a trusted person is provided legal authority to make decisions regarding your medical care in the event of mental incapacity;

Advanced Directives in which written instructions are provided about the types of health care that you do or do not wish to receive in the future if you become incapable of expressing your wishes;

What Is A Living Will?

A living will is the common term for a ‘personal directive’ or “advance directive”, which is a document that captures your wishes and preferences for medical and personal care in the event that you’re unable to advocate for yourself. In Canada, you can create one of these documents as stipulated in your province to legally appoint a caregiver to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, and provide guidance for doctors on things like whether you would or would not want to be put on life support.
Like the name suggests, a living will deals with end-of-life affairs while you’re alive (unlike a regular will which comes into effect after death). While your will is guaranteed to come into effect some day, a living will is only there if you need it.

Why Do I Need A Living Will?

You need a living will for the same reason that you need insurance. While you hope you’ll never need it, it’s important to know that you’ll be covered should the worst happen.
A living will keeps you in the driver’s seat of key decisions, and prevents your loved ones from shouldering the burden of making difficult decisions in a crisis.
Living wills aren’t just for seniors considering end-of-life care. Whether a bike crash, ski accident, brain tumour, or stroke, emergencies can happen to anyone at any age, and when they do, they often leave families in crisis. When you write a living will, you’re looking out for the mental wellbeing of your loved ones as much as you’re looking out for yourself.

Living will, personal directive & power of attorney

What’s the difference between a living will and a personal directive?
Living wills, advance care directives, and personal directives are all terms used interchangeably to describe a type of document that outlines your medical wishes for the end of life. Legally speaking there is no such thing as a “living will” in Canada, even though it’s the more commonly recognized term.
To keep things interesting, every province has a slightly different legal name for this document. You’ll need to make sure you fill out the document according to the guidelines in your province, and we’ll outline how to do so later in this article.

What’s the difference between a living will and a power of attorney?
The main difference between a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and a personal directive (commonly referred to as a living will) is that the former mostly refers only to “who” will make decisions, while the latter includes “who” but also details “what” you’d like your care to look like, and “how” those decisions should be made. If you provided care instructions as part of a Power of Attorney for Personal Care, then the two documents act the same when it comes to making decisions about medical care. Keep in mind, there are two types of power of attorney: one that makes decisions about your assets and possessions (a power of attorney for property) and one that makes decisions about your medical treatment (a power of attorney for personal care). You can appoint the same person to act in both capacities, or you can appoint them separately.

What To Include In Your Living Will

To write a detailed living will, you should consider including the following:

Who will make decisions on my behalf?
This person is your “attorney”, “representative”, or “proxy. Most people choose a family member such as a spouse, or an adult child.

When assigning a representative, consider:

  1. Proximity: ideally, you should appoint someone who lives nearby.
  2. Trustworthiness: choose someone whose values and decision making tends to align with your own.
  3. Assertiveness: this person needs to be able to advocate for you.
  4. Willingness: this is a big responsibility, so you need to be sure your representative is comfortable stepping into this role.

What level of authority will my representative have?
You can specify whether the decision-making powers your representative should have as:

  • Specific, limited authority
  • Full authority subject to your instructions
  • Full authority and the ability to override your instructions

What healthcare treatments do I consent to? Which do I refuse?
This can encompass your preferences, or religious concerns. Consider the following:

  • Life-prolonging medical care. This can include blood transfusions, CPR, dialysis, drugs, respirator use, and surgery.
  • Food and water. Some patients can live for a long time when provided intravenous fluids. Some would want to, while others would not.
  • Palliative care. This is care given to reduce pain when forgoing life-prolonging treatments.
  • What happens to my loved ones while I’m incapacitated?
  • If you have children who are minors, you’ll want to communicate care instructions for your children while you’re incapacitated.
  • This is separate from the instructions in your last will, which only comes into effect after death.