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Powers of Attorney – What you Need to Know

Why is a Power of Attorney important? Although no one likes to think of the worst case, if something happens, like an accident or illness that impairs your ability to make decisions for yourself, you need someone to take care of you.

When we think of accidents or end-of-life care, we often believe that our families will automatically make decisions for us. But that may not be true in all cases. Legal authority is needed if you wish to name an individual or individuals responsible for your wellbeing when you are unable to make your wishes known.

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone you trust the right to make financial or health care decisions for you. This trusted person does not have to be a lawyer to act as your attorney.

At Kelly D. Jordan Family Law firm, we believe that it is important for every adult to have a will and both financial and health care Powers of Attorney. This is particularly true for:

  • Single people, especially those with no living parents or siblings.
  • Unmarried couples who will not inherit each other’s estates without a will.
  • Couples with multiple children or benefactors who may disagree about the estate or medical arrangements.

Even if you believe your loved ones will agree on your care, having a Power of Attorney in place ensures they understand your wishes, and can help them make decisions during a particularly difficult time.

So, what exactly is a Power of Attorney and what do you need to know about them?

Two Types – Personal Care and Property

  • Personal Care is also sometimes called medical or health care power of attorney. An attorney for personal care can make decisions about your health care, housing needs and other aspects of your everyday life such as feeding and clothing.
  • Property can also be called Financial Power of Attorney or a Continuing Power of Attorney. They are responsible for your financial wellbeing such as paying your bills, or managing your property and investments. However, your attorney may act on your behalf even if you remain capable so it is important that you trust your attorney completely.

Requirements to appoint someone Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney does not need to be given to a family member. You can select your lawyer or even an organization like a trust company to handle your affairs. It’s important that you discuss your wishes with them to ensure they are willing and able to take on the responsibility.

Your power of attorney must be:

  • mentally capable
  • of legal age (in Ontario, at least 18 years old for property, 16 for personal care).

Individual vs. Joint Power of Attorney

While you can appoint a competent individual to act as your power of attorney, you may wish to assign two or more to handle the many decisions that need to be made. This can be an important safeguard.

If you appoint more than one person to act as your power of attorney, you will need to decide if they need to make decisions “jointly, or “jointly and severally”.

  • Jointly means the individuals can only act if they all agree to the decision. This can slow down the decision-making process, but is a good option if you don’t entirely trust one or more of your attorneys to follow your wishes in all matters.
  • Jointly and Severally allows your group of attorneys to make decisions on their own or as a group. This can be a practical choice for everyday decision making, but you will need to trust all your designees to make decisions in all specified matters.

Timeframe – limited or continuing

Powers of Attorney can also be for a specific time period, or ongoing.

  • A limited power of attorney gives your designee powers over a specific task (eg. selling a house) for a limited period of time.
  • An enduring or continuing power of attorney provides your designee the power to continue to act for you when you become mentally incapable.

While having a Power of Attorney document is not a requirement, it’s good planning to ensure there is someone you trust in place to make decisions for you when needed. When you are estate planning or creating a will, the best family lawyer will advise you to also consider both financial and health care Powers of Attorney.

Remember to always discuss particular care wishes in advance with your designee, and be sure to record your decisions in a Power of Attorney document.

There are many good online resources to create a Power of Attorney document, however considering the importance of these decisions, it may be best to consult your attorney about your specific case and concerns so they can advise you on the options available to you.

If you already have a Power of Attorney document, it’s a good idea to review it periodically to ensure your wishes have not changed.

If you need to create a Power of Attorney, are looking to create a will, or need a family lawyer, look no further than Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm in Toronto. With experts recognized as the best family lawyer, you can count on our knowledge and experience to help you with all your legal needs. From legal mediation services to parenting decisions, marriage agreements to wills and end-of-life care decisions, we are trusted experts in all aspects of family law. Contact us today.