Appoint a trusted person to take over your affairs when necessary.

We all work hard to support ourselves and our family, pay our way in society, and do our best to put aside a surplus to live on when we no longer wish to or are able to work. And with a little luck, we build up enough of an estate to pass onto our loved ones when we’re gone. Part of this process involves making plans and executing strategies to manage and grow your estate effectively. Many of us are excellent at this. Yet when it comes to planning how our estate and our personal health is to be managed as we age and lose the ability to manage both our financial and personal care/health affairs ourselves, many of us fail to make any sort of plan at all. So if this sounds like you, its time you started thinking about Powers of Attorney, Representation Agreements and Advance Directives.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a document that appoints another person, called an “Attorney”, to deal with your business and property and to make financial and legal decisions for you. This might include paying bills, depositing or withdrawing money from your bank account, investing your money or selling your house. It can be very specific, granting your Attorney power to deal with a specific task such as selling a certain piece of property. It can also be very general, giving your Attorney the power to do anything that you could do on your own. It does NOT give the Attorney authority to make decisions about your health care. A Power of Attorney is a simple and inexpensive way to plan ahead and choose the person who will help you with your finances.

Why is it important to appoint a Power of Attorney?

There are many reasons you may want to have a Power of Attorney in place. You might think that only elderly people need to have a Power of Attorney. However, it is just as important for younger people to put incapacity planning into place in case of events such as a brain injury due to motor vehicle or recreational accident or a stroke. Other reasons to appoint a Power of Attorney include:

  • If you are physically unable to look after your own affairs
  • If you are going to be out of the country and you need someone to look after your affairs while you are away
  • If you suddenly become mentally incapable due to illness, disease or accident
  • If you work in an environment where accidents frequently occur or you engage in dangerous recreational hobbies or sports

Who can I appoint as my Attorney?

You can choose anybody as your Attorney, so long as he or she is 19 years or older and is able to understand the responsibilities involved. However, you cannot appoint as an Attorney a caregiver who is paid to provide you with personal or health care services or is an employee at the facility where you live and receive health and personal care services. This rule does not apply if the person providing the care is your spouse, parent or child. The most important thing when appointing an Attorney is to choose someone you trust. A Power of Attorney is a very powerful document and the decision to appoint an Attorney should not be made lightly. It is a good idea to name more than one person, if possible. It is important to talk to these people before you proceed. The people you name are not obliged to accept the appointment. Therefore, you want to make sure that they are willing to take on the duties and that they understand what you expect from them.

What is a Representation Agreement?

Advance health care planning is the process of learning, deciding, talking about, and documenting how, when, and by whom an adult would like his or her financial, health, and personal decisions made if and when the adult becomes unable to make or communicate those decisions. This process may include choosing and appointing decision makers (known as “Representatives”) and providing instructions. A Representation Agreement (“RA”) is an important tool in the advance health care planning toolbox.

What is an Advance Directive?

An Advance Directive (often referred to as a “Living Will”) is a written instruction given by a capable adult to give or refuse consent to health care in the event that he or she is unable to give instructions at the time the health care is required. Before making an Advance Directive, you may wish to read more and seek the advice of your doctor or other health care provider to ensure that you understand completely the different types of treatment that will be addressed. You do not have to make an Advance Directive. It is your choice. A Representation Agreement may be more suitable for long term advance care planning because your views may change over time or advancements may be made in medical technology. However, if you are terminally ill, it may be more appropriate.

If you have questions, I have answers. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

*Some of the above material was adapted from various publications by The People’s Law School, all of which may be found at The People’s Law School is a non-profit charitable society whose purpose is to provide British Columbians with reliable information about their rights and responsibilities under the law.