Advance Care Planning: Do It Before You Need It

Categories: Care, Education, Featured, In The Media, Leadership, Opinion, and People & Places.

This article was originally published on The Palliative Approach on April 16, 2024.

By Beth Campbell Duke

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance care planning (ACP) involves making decisions about the healthcare you want to receive when you are unable to speak for yourself. Having your wishes known and respected provides both peace of mind for you and clarity for your loved ones.

In Canada, healthcare is a provincial matter. While the laws and processes are similar across the country, there are differences in terminology and the forms you need to use to make your wishes legal. The big picture, though, is the same across the country.

Regardless of where you live in Canada, it is crucial that we all understand that ‘getting our affairs in order’ goes well beyond having a will. Advance care planning differs from a will because it’s there when you are unable to speak for yourself.

“A critically important point about Advance Care Planning is that you must do it before you become incapacitated. It’s not just aging that can incapacitate you, but sudden illness or an accident. We don’t want to think about these events happening, but the reality is that they do. They happen every day. To anybody.”

Why Advance Care Planning Matters

Advance care planning preserves your autonomy and ensures your healthcare wishes are honoured. Think about these reasons why ACP is crucial:

  • Empowerment: ACP empowers us as individuals to have a voice in our healthcare, especially when we can’t speak for ourselves. By discussing our wishes in advance, we maintain control over our medical treatment
  • Relieving Burdens: ACP gives our family and friends clear directives about our wishes. When our loved ones face challenging decisions about our care, they are prepared. ACP alleviates burden and conflict by providing clear guidance.
  • Quality of Care: ACP promotes the delivery of healthcare aligned with our values and beliefs. By communicating our preferences in advance, our healthcare providers can ensure that treatments are in line with our wishes.
  • Legal Protection: Documenting our healthcare preferences offers legal protection, ensuring our wishes are respected when we’re unable to communicate them. This can help prevent disputes and provide clarity for healthcare providers.

What Does ACP Entail?

An advance care plan is part of the bigger ‘get your affairs in order’ picture. Unlike a will, an advance care plan is one of the documents you can have in place while you are still living.

There are a number of organizations in provinces across Canada that provide information and services for advance care planning. (Find them in the ‘Resources’ section below.)

These forms are provided free and while some require you to have witnesses sign, they don’t require seeing a lawyer.

Advance Care Planning: A Great Place To Start

Whether you haven’t started thinking about ‘getting your affairs in order’, or think it’s time to review things, your advance care planning document is a great place to start.

  • This document involves outlining your thoughts and wishes for how you would like your medical treatment to go.
  • It will ask you to choose a substitute decision maker (SDM) and,
  • Many ACP templates also have short checklists for the other planning documents you can/should have.

Find information about Advance Care Planning for your province by searching on ‘Advance Care Planning’ and ‘[Your Province]’. As well, if your province has many health authorities or regions, they will also have information. Most will have the downloads available in different languages.

Download the Advance Care Planning Canada Workbook

Steps to Effective Advance Care Planning

These steps in creating an ACP are also outlined in more detail on the web pages about ACP and the workbooks you can download.

  • Start the Conversations: Begin by discussing advance care planning with your loved ones. These conversations can be challenging but are essential for ensuring that everyone understands your wishes and values regarding healthcare.
  • Understand Your Options: Educate yourself about the different aspects of advanced care planning, including advanced directives, healthcare proxies, and living wills. Understand how these documents function and their implications for your care. Again, most of the webpages and workbooks will go into more detail about your options. You can also discuss the options with your healthcare providers.
  • Choose a Substitute Decision Maker: Designate a substitute decision maker, often referred to as a healthcare proxy or power of attorney for healthcare. This individual will make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. Select someone you trust and ensure they understand your wishes.
  • Document Your Preferences: Record your healthcare preferences in writing, using the forms you can download. Some have the option to fill in the form digitally as well as download and print. Be specific about the treatments you would or wouldn’t want under various circumstances, including end-of-life care preferences.
  • Review and Update Regularly: Review your advance care plan regularly and make updates as needed. Life circumstances and healthcare preferences may change over time, so it’s essential to ensure that your directives remain current.
  • Communicate with Healthcare Providers: Share your advance care plan with your healthcare providers to ensure they incorporate your preferences into your care plan. This communication is vital for aligning treatment decisions with your values.
  • Store Documents Appropriately: Keep copies of your advance directives in a safe but accessible location. Provide copies to your substitute decision maker, family members, and healthcare providers, and ensure they know where to find them in case of an emergency. We keep our documents in our individual healthcare binders as well as copies in a DropBox. Our DropBox is shared with the decision-makers and family.

Resources for Advance Care Planning in Canada

In addition to your own healthcare and legal advisors, there are organizations in Canada and the provinces where you can start to find more information.

  • Provincial Memorial Societies: These are organizations that exist to help people plan ahead for their deaths. One of their main benefits is that they help reduce funeral expenses as members get a preferred rate. In addition to this, many provide planning information which helps you organize your planning documents and will. There is a small membership fee. Find these by searching ‘Memorial Society’ and ‘[your province]’.
  • In British Columbia, there is an organization called ‘Nidus‘ that provides information on a full range of planning documents and options. While Nidus is in BC, there are links to most of these resources for other Canadian provinces. Nidus also offers a document registry service for a one-time small fee.
  • Advance Care Planning Canada has links to provincial resources as well. Find the map and links here:

One Step Today to Get Started

Getting started can seem overwhelming, especially when the planning is for a critical illness or end of life. This planning is so important and I would encourage you to take one step today: download and fill in the Advance Care Planning Workbook.

Download the Advance Care Planning Canada Workbook

Once you’re prepared, you can get on with things knowing you’ve got your own back. Your future self (and your future family and friends) will thank you.

About the Author:

Beth Campbell Duke is a science educator and family caregiver for her husband, Tony, and her parents. She’s busy developing programs and materials to help other patients and family caregivers navigate the healthcare system and tell their stories at

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