What’s the deal with representation agreements?

In estate planning, the vast majority of people are familiar with wills and most are familiar with powers of attorney. Yet, documents related to health often go forgotten.
What’s the deal with representation agreements?

Part of this is terminology – terms for health documents differ from province to province, which can create all sorts of confusion. In British Columbia, most health considerations can be dealt with by creating a Representation Agreement, a legal instruction for someone else to make healthcare choices if you cannot. This isn’t necessarily fun stuff, but it can be very important if you are hospitalized or end up incapable through a stroke, dementia, or any number of unpleasant ailments. 

A Voice When You Can’t Speak

The gold standard for medical professionals is ‘informed consent’. But what happens when there is no way for them to get it, i.e. you are in a coma or otherwise unable to speak? Who makes decisions for you? Medical practitioners are reluctant to take on that responsibility themselves, particularly if life threatening decisions are at stake. There is a statutory chain of authority, but even then doctors prefer clear authority if there is ever a decision to allow life to end. And if two people aren’t on the same level, conflict about what to do can create even more problems. A representation agreement assigns someone to make decisions for you and clarifies your wishes; it ensures your voice is heard, even when you can’t speak.

Specific Instructions

We’re all unique, and our healthcare preferences can vary greatly. One of the greatest advantages of a representation agreement is the ability to instruct your representative to act according to your wishes. You can specify the treatments you’d like to receive or avoid, ensuring that your healthcare aligns with your personal values and beliefs. For instance, many people will specifically instruct their representative to allow them to pass comfortably if they have an incurable terminal disease, rather than be kept alive by force-feeding or other extraordinary methods.

Family Harmony Maintained

When a health crisis strikes, it can be emotionally challenging for your loved ones to agree on the best course of action. By appointing a representative, you can choose who is best suited for the task and remove the need for consensus. This can prevent disputes among family members and ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding your healthcare.

Expedited Medical Care

In emergency situations, every moment counts. Having a representation agreement readily available means that medical professionals can quickly access your healthcare preferences. This can help you obtain prompt and appropriate care, potentially saving precious time when it matters most.

Peace of Mind for You and Your Family

Knowing that your healthcare wishes are documented and legally binding can provide you and your family with peace of mind. It reduces anxiety during already stressful times and allows you to focus on recovery, knowing that your representative will act in your best interests.

Easy to Create and Update

Creating a representation agreement is a straightforward process. With the guidance of a legal professional, you can easily draft these documents to suit your specific needs and preferences. They can also be easily updated as your circumstances or healthcare preferences change.

While representation agreements are far from thrilling, they are undeniably important. I often tell my clients that a power of attorney and representation agreement are arguably more important than a will, since you are still alive when they are being used and, even if you’re not competent, you still experience whatever happens to you. 

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Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice. Consult with qualified professionals to create a personalized estate plan suitable for your specific circumstances.

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