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Advance care planning

Plan for your future health care decisions

Advance care planning

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Many people write a will and plan their funerals in advance so that family members know their wishes. But few people think they could have a serious illness one day that may leave them unable to make health care decisions.

If you are seriously ill and in need of health care, but are incapable of making your own decisions, do your close family members, or friends know your wishes for health care? Do they know what medical procedure you would agree to, or refuse? By planning in advance, family and loved ones are better able to ensure wishes are understood and met in the event of a medical crisis.

What is advance care panning?

Advance care planning is the process of a capable adult talking over their beliefs, values, and wishes, about the health care they wish to consent to or refuse, with their health care provider and/or family, in advance of a situation when they are incapable of making health decisions.

This process may include making an advance care plan or an advance directive.

  • An advance care plan is a written summary of a capable adult's beliefs, values, wishes and/or instructions for future health care based on their conversations with family, friends, and health care provider.
  • An advance directive is a written instruction expressed directly to the capable adult's physician or other health care provider, or to their representative*, if they have named one in a representation agreement**, for the health care they wish to consent to, or refuse.

*Representative is a person named by a capable adult to make health care decisions on behalf of the adult, if they become incapable.

**Representative agreement is a document in which a capable adult names a representative and sets out the type and scope of decisions that the representative may make on behalf of the adult, if they become incapable.


What should you know about advance care planning?

Advance care planning basics consist of the following steps:

  1. Discussing with family/friends and health care provider(s) about your beliefs, values and wishes
  2. Identifying and writing down future health care treatment - which medical interventions to accept or refuse
  3. Writing down the contact information for the people who qualify to be your decision maker, if you become incapable in the future

What are your options?

With BC's latest incapacity planning legislation in place, capable adults are now able to choose from various options to express their wishes and decisions for their future health care, management of their financial routines, and personal care.

These options include:

  1. Decision made by temporary substitute decision maker
  2. Decision made by named representative (with representation agreement)
  3. Decision made by name Representative (with representation agreement and advance directive)
  4. Decision made by capable adult (with advance directive)

More information on these choices and how to protect your loved ones can be found on the BC Ministry of Health Services Advance Care Planning page:


Have a plan, express your wishes

Once you have an advance care plan, or an advance directive, be sure to give copies to your physician, family members and close friends and keep a copy for yourself in an accessible place.

Review your plan from time to time, particularly if your medical condition changes.


Additional resources

There are several resources that can help you start the conversation about advance care planning. The following websites will provide valuable information:

First Nations Health Authority

HealthLink BC

Ministry of Justice

Nidus Personal Planning Resource Centre and Registry

Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia

Seniors BC


Medical orders for scope of treatment (MOST)

MOST supports physicians to provide quality patient-centred care planning, and at the same time allowing patients to think through and discuss options regarding life sustaining treatments.

MOST resources


Video resources

For more information

Five steps of advance care planning