Advance care planning is the process of reflecting on your values and beliefs, and letting others know what kind of health care you would like to receive if you ever become too ill or incapacitated to express your own wishes and preferences. It means having discussions with family, friends and health care providers about your future care. You may never need an advance care plan but having one is a way of making sure your voice is heard when you cannot speak for yourself.
Who should have an advance care plan?
Making an advance care plan is a wise practice for everyone because we cannot predict the future; it is especially important if you are facing a serious illness. An advance care plan will not only guide your care and but also give your loved ones confidence that they are honouring your wishes and medical choices if you are incapable of expressing them.
When should I create my advance care plan?
It's important to remember that an advance care plan is more than just a single, one-time document. It’s about having an ongoing conversation with loved ones, your doctor and the person you choose to be your SDM about your values and beliefs, and about how you want them to guide decisions about your health care when you are not capable of expressing those decisions yourself. Creating an advance care plan includes:
- Reflecting on what makes your life meaningful and your values and beliefs
- If you are facing a serious illness, understanding as much as possible about the illness, treatments and care
- Thinking about your choice of SDM, the person you can trust to honour your values and make medical choices on your behalf
- Talking about your values and wishes with your loved ones, SDM, close friends, doctor and health care team
- Recording your SDM and communicating your wishes
An excellent resource for understanding advance care planning and for creating and communicating your own plan is the Speak Up Advance Care Planning Workbook.
What does an advance care plan look like?
Your advance care plan can take the form of a written document, a video or audio recording. Or it could simply be a discussion with your family and care team members about your wishes. Whether those wishes are recorded or not, they are legally binding.
Can I change my advance care plan?
Yes. You can change your advance care plan as often as you like. Our lives and the people around us change over time. It’s a good idea to review your plan regularly so that it reflects any changes in your preferences. Be sure you talk to your SDM about any changes.
Common Advance Care Planning Terms (English)
Common Advance Care Planning Terms (French)
Speak Up: Advance care planning in Canada (website)
The Substitute Decision Maker Hierarchy (website)
5 Steps to Advance Care Planning (video)