Powers of Attorney: What are they, and why do they matter?

In short, a Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives someone (let’s call them your Attorney) the authority to act on your behalf.  There are different types of Powers of Attorney:

  • Power of Attorney for Property given for a particular situation
  • Continuing Power of Attorney for Property
  • Power of Attorney for Personal Care

Powers of Attorney can be very useful documents, and having them in place can save you and your loved ones a lot of time and money.  For example, if you were to become mentally incapable of making decisions, a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property would allow the person (or people) you name as your Attorney to ensure that your bills are paid, and a Power of Attorney for Personal Care would allow the person/people you name to make decisions about the type of care you receive and where you would live.  If you do not have Powers of Attorney in place before becoming mentally incapable, then in most cases there will be no one with the legal authority to make these types of decisions, in which case someone will likely have to apply to Court to obtain this authority.

Considering the low price and relatively simple process involved in preparing Powers of Attorney, I generally recommend that clients make Powers of Attorney at the same time as they make their Wills, if they don’t have them in place already.

Below is a basic summary of each of the types of Powers of Attorney I’ve mentioned above.

Power of Attorney for Property for a particular situation

This type of Power of Attorney allows someone to make financial decisions on your behalf, but it cannot be used if you become mentally incapable.  You may want to use one of these if, for example, you’re going to be away for an extended period of time and want someone to be able to handle financial matters on your behalf while you’re gone.  You can include specific conditions in the document, such as an effective date and expiry date, and you can specify the particular areas of authority you are giving to the person.

Continuing Power of Attorney for Property

This type of Power of Attorney is similar, but it will continue to be effective if and when you become mentally incapable (as long as it meets specific requirements under Ontario law that allow it to do so).  It generally gives your Attorney the authority to do anything relating to financial matters on your behalf that you could do while capable, except make a Will.  You can specify conditions and limits in a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property, but it may not be advisable to do so since it’s impossible to know what kinds of situations may come up.

Power of Attorney for Personal Care

This type of Power of Attorney allows the person you name as Attorney to make decisions about the care and medical treatments you receive, your housing, and other decisions relating to your personal care.  As with Powers of Attorney for Property, you can limit the authority given to your Attorney.  Some people also use Powers of Attorney for Personal Care to list specific types of medical care they do not wish to receive.

Closing Comments

As I said above, Powers of Attorney are relatively easy to put into place while you’re mentally capable, but may be impossible to make once you’re not.  It’s also important to note that you can revoke a Power of Attorney at any time, as long as you have the mental capacity needed to do so under Ontario law.

As with a Will, it’s important to review your Powers of Attorney periodically and update them as your circumstances change.

If you have questions about Powers of Attorney or would like to discuss making your own Powers of Attorney, please contact me and I’d be happy to meet with you.

Please note that this post discusses Powers of Attorney under the laws of the Province of Ontario, and laws in your jurisdiction may be different.  Nothing written in this post should be considered to be legal advice. For personalized advice on your particular situation, please contact me for an appointment.