Do I need a power of attorney for someone to manage my assets if I am unable?
In most cases, people should have a power of attorney as part of their estate plan. A power of attorney for Property allows you to appoint someone to act on your behalf with regards to your assets in the event that you are unable. There are two kinds: Continuing and Non-Continuing.
Non-Continuing Power of Attorney
A Non-Continuing power of attorney allows your Lawyer, who you have appointed, to manage your assets but it ceases to have effect in the event that you become mentally incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. These are generally used for specific purposes where an individual will be unavailable for a relatively short period of time. For instance, someone embarking on an extended holiday may appoint someone as their Lawyer to deal with banking and investing while they are away.
Continuing Power of Attorney
For most people, a Continuing power of attorney is appropriate for their estate plan. This allows someone to manage your assets and their power continues in the event of incapacity. A person (or persons) of your choosing will be able to act on your behalf and make decisions regarding your affairs in your best interests. This may involve small matters such as the paying of monthly utility bills or large matters, such as selling your home should it no longer meet your needs.
If you do not have a power of attorney, your family members will be subject to considerable delay and expense in getting someone appointed to act on your behalf; the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee will be involved. Ultimately the person appointed may not be the person you would have chosen.
When preparing a power of attorney for Property, it is important to consider who to appoint and what type of powers they should have. The document must be executed in accordance with the legal requirements so it takes effect. These matters can be discussed with a Lawyer who can consider your specific needs, ensuring your power of attorney works with your estate plan.
“I recently learned that my elderly Aunt is a victim of Fraud. The police have advised me that some victims of the fraud are considering a lawsuit and that someone may wish to speak to a Lawyer on my Aunt’s behalf. My Aunt suffers from dementia and I hold power of attorney. Can my Aunt participate in a lawsuit?"
Special rules apply to lawsuits involving people, like your aunt, who suffer from a mental illness and therefore lack capacity at law.
Generally, children under the age of 18 and people who suffer from mental illness, including those who suffer from dementia, must be represented by a litigation guardian within legal proceedings. There are also special rules which apply to how limitation periods apply to persons who lack capacity at law.
Litigation Guardians assume responsibility for litigation on behalf of a litigant who lacks capacity. Litigation Guardians serve an important role and are saddled with significant responsibilities. They assume the responsibilities of retaining and instructing Lawyers on behalf of the incapable litigant, and litigation guardians assume personal responsibility for any costs liability incurred as a result of a lawsuit.
However, the litigation guardian plays an essential role in ensuring access to justice for some of society’s most vulnerable people. Without people agreeing to stand as Litigation Guardian people who suffer losses could be left without recourse to the courts.
Generally a Lawyer works very closely with a litigation guardian to ensure that risks are properly understood. Lawyers also put in place measures to ensure the risk of personal exposure to the guardian is minimized.
If you are asked to stand as a litigation guardian you should consult with a Lawyer before deciding whether or not to stand.
We have been married for the last 25 years but don’t have any children. Do we need a will, or would everything just go to the surviving spouse anyway?
Yes, you do need a will. Whenever you don’t have any children, under the statutory distribution scheme for individuals that die without a will, your spouse would receive your entire estate. However, you should still have a will for at least two reasons:
- Appointing an executor of your estate; and
- Making instructions for the distribution of your estate in the event that you’re predeceased by your spouse.
Appointment of an executor of your estate.
The executor named in a will has the legal authority to take possession of all your assets, do your final income tax returns, and deal with banks and government institutions. If you don’t have a will, a court would have to appoint an executor of your estate to deal with any assets that were not jointly owned, as well as any registered investments that did not have a named beneficiary. The process of appointing an executor usually takes few months, so in addition to incurring unnecessary costs, there will be an extended delay during which your spouse will not have access to the assets in your estate. In my experience, some financial institutions will waive a probate requirement if your spouse is the named executor and the only beneficiary of your estate, which could provide your spouse with ready access to some assets shortly after your death.
Distribution of your estate if you survive your spouse.
By having a will in place, you will make sure that your estate is distributed the way you want it to be in the event that your spouse passes away shortly before you, or in the event that you are unable to make a will after your spouse’s death. Under the statutory distribution scheme, if you don’t have a spouse nor children, your estate would go to your parents. Alternatively, if your parents are deceased, your estate would go to your siblings. This may not be your wish. For example you might want to leave part of your estate to your spouse’s family, or you may wish to skip your parents and siblings and distribute the estate among your and your spouse’s nieces and nephews, or make gifts to a charity or charities. No matter which option you choose, having a will can provide the peace of mind of knowing that your estate will be distributed according to your wishes.
Your last will does not have to be drafted or signed by a Lawyer. However, a will is a legal document that will determine who will have control of your estate and how it is going to be distributed. There are certain legal requirements that have to be met for the will to be valid. As such it is very important that your will is drafted, signed and witnessed properly.
How can a Lawyer help?
A Lawyer will ask you right questions to help you determine how to distribute your estate while taking into consideration various contingencies and scenarios that might be in place at the time of your passing. She will discuss with you legal clauses that you might want to include in your will, such as a beneficiary designation for your RRSP and insurance policies, expressing your wishes in regards to the custody of your minor children or confirming compensation for the executor. Your Lawyer will also talk to you about the powers that you want to give to your executor in addition to the powers he would have under current legal framework or limits that you want put on such powers. She will properly draft your will and will try to help you understand all the legal clauses and legalities contained in a will. Your Lawyer will also make sure that your new will revokes all your previous wills or other testamentary documents. Most importantly, your Lawyer will also make sure that your will is properly signed and witnessed.
Your last will is an important legal document and you should retain a professional to help you with its preparation and execution. Seeking and using such help will give you peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in order and make sure that your will reflects all your wishes.