Why is a Representation Agreement important?

By Karl Maier |  Sponsor of Voices in Motion  |  Beacon Law Centre

Who will choose your health care (medication, dentistry, surgery, rehabilitation) if you are unable to? Who will choose your personal care (food, clothing, residence, activities, visitors)?

In the health care world, the legal rule is that no care can be received by a person without the consent of that person, except in an emergency. If a person is unable to understand the pros and cons of a decision, they need someone else to give (or refuse) consent on their behalf. Of course, the personal care decisions one makes all the time have a large impact on one’s quality of life.

BC law has a useful document called a “representation agreement”. In this document you can appoint one or more people you trust to make these decisions on your behalf. Covering both health care and personal care, it is like a “power of attorney for your body”. During a time of mental incapacity, this type of advance care planning is extremely valuable. For example:

  • Gill suffers a stroke unexpectedly, and is in hospital, temporarily unable to speak. With a representation agreement, Gill’s spouse Rana can immediately consent on Gill’s behalf to all the drugs, physiotherapy, and other treatments that will help Gill recover as fully as possible;
  • Aby’s life is increasingly impacted by dementia. Aby wanted both of her daughters Ricki and Sara to be involved in her care. Ricki and Sara initially use a representation agreement to help Aby make decisions, gradually becoming more involved and ensuring that her activities include her dearest interests (like choral music!).
  • Jonathan is satisfied with his long life, but now is facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. A representation agreement makes clear to his family and the care team his preference for palliative care. His representative (a long-time friend) refuses painful chemo-therapy and CPR, and consents to medication that makes Jonathan’s last days as pleasant as possible.

If no pre-planning is done, the general law has a default list of “temporary substitute decision makers” for health care. The list starts with spouse/partner, followed by adult children and then other relatives. Using the default list to make decisions can be difficult. Also there is no similar default list for personal care decisions, except for decisions about care facility admission.

An estate planning lawyer can help you to inform, clarify and implement your thinking with up-to-date advice. The lawyer will make sure that your advance care planning is well thought out, fully informed, and properly documented.

Karl Maier is a lawyer at Beacon Law Centre in Victoria. You can contact him at maier@beaconlaw.ca.

We are thankful to Beacon Law Centre who is a corporate sponsor for Voices in Motion.

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