Know Your Powers of Attorney

Serious illnesses can happen. Make sure you and your family members have the legalities in place so financial and health decisions are made according to your wishes.

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It’s not pleasant to think about, but what if your mother goes from somewhat frail one day to a hospital bed the next? Do you have access to her finances to be sure her bills are paid? Do you know what her wishes are with regards to her medical care?

Looking ahead to your own future, are you prepared if something were to happen to you?

You’ve probably heard about powers of attorney and healthcare directives. These legal documents are vital to make sure people with serious medical concerns will have their needs taken care of – according to their own wishes.

You’ve probably heard about powers of attorney and healthcare directives. These legal documents are vital to make sure people who develop a serious medical concern or are in an accident will have their needs taken care of – according to their own wishes – especially when they can’t look after themselves.

Jan Musil, an Advanced Financial Planning specialist at Investors Group says, “You might be surprised to learn that if you were to become incapacitated, neither your spouse nor your children automatically have the right to make decisions regarding your financial affairs.”

He recommends these documents become a component of your life and financial plans – and the plans of family members who might need care in the future.

Protect your finances

A power of attorney for property gives a person you name the power to deal with your property and financial affairs. It can be general enough to apply to any property at any time, or specific to a particular property or time, but does not usually extend to the power of making decisions over your personal care.

You make this provision in a legal document – it should be signed and witnessed – and the named attorney’s authority either takes effect immediately – when you become unwell, are out of the country, are unable to deal with your own affairs – or at any other time you chose.

You can revoke these powers at any time while you are mentally capable to do so. Choose someone who is over 18 and that you trust. You can name multiple people, too – such as two adult children – to help ensure your finances are managed according to your instructions.

Watch your health

An advance health care directive (sometimes also called a living will) is a document that expresses your wishes regarding future health or medical care. For example, you may not wish to receive life-support treatment to artificially sustain life if you have no reasonable chance of recovery. In some provinces, these instructions may be made binding. (While medically assisted dying is legal in Canada under certain circumstances, it cannot be requested as part of an instructional directive.)

An advance health care directive can also appoint a specific person to be your proxy or attorney, in which case it can also be referred to as a power of attorney for personal care. (The term “living will” usually only refers to the part of the document that outlines preferences as to medical care.)

A power of attorney for personal care is separate and distinct from a power of attorney for property, but it does grant one or more individuals the authority to deal with personal affairs, such as health care, nutrition, clothing, hygiene and safety.

Don’t let the government decide

Musil says that if you do not have a valid power of attorney for property at the time you lose capacity, a court order will be required to appoint a guardian or trustee to manage your property on your behalf. If a family member or friend does not come forward, the courts will typically appoint the Public Guardian and Trustee or similar government agency to assume the role.  Most provinces have rules in place allowing family members to make basic healthcare decisions if you become mentally incapable without having appointed a substitute decision maker

While these aren’t pleasant topics to think about, it’s best to be ready in advance, and make sure your loved ones have protected themselves legally too. When you turn to these documents, it’ll be during tough times, and they’ll provide security and stability when you need it most.

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