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Powers of Attorney (PoA): What Are They?

What is a Power of Attorney and Why Do I Need One?

A power of attorney is a legal document in which one person (the donor) appoints another person (the attorney) to make decisions on their behalf if they’re unable to. PoA’s can be extremely useful and versatile. For example, if you’re leaving the country for an extended period of time, you may want somebody to manage your financial affairs for you. Similarly, if you’re approaching old age, you may want to have someone make your personal care decisions regarding your health. 

There are 2 Types of Powers of Attorney:

Power of Attorney for Personal Care: This kind of PoA is designed to name a person to make your medical and long-term care decisions if you become mentally incapable of doing so yourself. This can include things such as your meals, housing, hygiene, nutrition, or anything else pertaining to your health and well-being. 

Power of Attorney for Property: This kind of PoA is designed to name a person to make decisions about your assets if you are unable to. This can include things such as paying off your debt and bills, collecting money owed to you, or managing your real estate.  

Notably, these PoA’s are known as general power of attorneys. General PoA’s are the most common type of PoA, giving broad authorizations to the attorney which allows them to make general medical or financial decisions for the donor. 

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document describing a person’s desires regarding their medical care in the event that they become incapable of expressing consent and stating their wishes. Most commonly, people indicate whether or not they want to be kept on life support, resuscitated, or donate their organs. Naturally, because a living will is closely tied to healthcare, some people decide to include a living will as part of their PoA for Personal Care. However, many people also like the flexibility of a simple PoA for Personal Care, allowing the appointed Attorney to make decisions as they see fit. It is always advisable to discuss your wishes with your Attorney as early as possible after your PoA for Personal Care or living will is drafted.

How Is A Power of Attorney Different from My Will?

One way to distinguish between your PoA and your will is by envisioning a timeline. A PoA is used to protect your wishes while you are still alive, while your will is used to protect your wishes after you’ve passed away. Both legal documents are important and useful in their own ways, but these terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably as they serve two very different purposes.

What If I Don’t Have A Power of Attorney?

If you are unable to make decisions on your own behalf and you have not appointed a power of attorney, there are set rules dictating how decisions regarding your assets and care will be made:

  • In Ontario, without a Power of Attorney for personal care, the Health Care Consent Act outlines a list of who will make decisions on your behalf. The order is as follows: your spouse or common law partner, parents, siblings, and finally, any other living relative. Sometimes an issue arises when the person granted the right to make decisions for your healthcare isn’t the person you actually want making those choices, however, having a PoA can help to prevent this problem from arising.
  • Without a PoA for Property, your family will likely not be able to access or manage your assets. Therefore, for example, they won’t be able to pay your bills or collect money owed to you. Instead, they may have to undergo a lengthy and expensive process where they will petition to become your legal guardian and gain access to your property.

Simply put, having a power of attorney ensures that if you are unable to make health care or financial decisions for yourself in the future for any reason, your loved ones will have the power to take care of you and your belongings according to your wishes.

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