A Power of Attorney is different from a Will as a document that governs your life, while a Will governs your death.
A Power of Attorney is basically an expression of your living intent, and a Will is an expression of your intent after death. This means that a Power of Attorney guides the decision of what happens to you and your assets when you’re alive but can’t make decisions, and a Will guides what happens to your body and your assets when you’re no longer alive.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney (PoA) gives someone in your life the ability to make decisions for you when you can’t make it for yourself. This could be given to someone for use while you’re out of the country (a Non-Continuing Power of Attorney) or if you’re physically or mentally incapable of making decisions for an extended period of time (a Continuing Power of Attorney). As it gives this person (or persons, since you can have individuals do it together) the ability to make life altering decisions for you, you want to pick someone you trust. While you want someone who can advocate for your interests as your Power of Attorney, you should not choose your lawyer. It should be someone who will be emotionally prepared to make big decisions for you when you’re not able to make those decisions yourself. Your choice shouldn’t be a question of who you love the most or who loves you the most, but who can take charge and get things done in moments of grief. Don't worry, you can take care of the person you love the most in your will.
There are 2 kinds of Power of Attorneys; a Power of Attorneys for Healthcare and a Power of Attorney for Finances.
The Power of Attorney for Healthcare
The Power of Attorney for Healthcare is often called the Power of Attorney for Personal Care, and sometimes called a Healthcare Directive. The Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to choose who will make medical decisions for you when you’re medically incapacitated, whether it’s due to a coma, you being on an operating table or your mental health is hindered by a variety of reasons. You can choose to have your family doctor or group of doctors determine if you’re medically incapacitated, so that the person holding the Power of Attorney can’t just arbitrarily decide it’s time for them to take over. As a healthcare directive, the Power of Attorney for Healthcare also lets you make critical medical decisions for yourself in advance of certain situations arising, such as whether medical intervention should continue when your quality of life is severely diminished or whether your organs should be donated if you are brain dead. This takes the burden of making these critical decisions off the person you’ve appointed in your Power of Attorney for Healthcare. It also means that unless it’s impossible to do so, they’re bound by your decisions.
The Power of Attorney for Finances
The Power of Attorney for Finances, also known as the Power of Attorney for Property, gives another person control over your finances. It gives the person you appoint the power to take any actions you can in respect of your finances. This means that the person you appoint can make financial care decisions for you, like whether you should remain in your home or have it sold; which retirement home is financially feasible for you; or, whether your investments should be sold so you can be moved to hospice care. This individual will have the power to speak with financial institutions about your finances, or deal with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) when it comes to your taxes, or to assist in any lawsuit on your behalf, or that’s been brought against you. This Power of Attorney is key to making sure that the things you’ve built in your life don't deteriorate during your final days, so it’s critical that you pick someone who is financially responsible.
When Should I get a Power of Attorney?
Consider getting one soon if you’re physically or mentally ill, or if you’re getting older in years. It’s usually best to get one when you’re having a lawyer draft your Will. This gives you a chance to focus your thoughts on how you want to handle unforeseen future circumstances at one time without having to revisit the topic again. Plus, lawyers sometimes give you a combination deal to get both done since they already have your information in front of them (Always Law certainly does). You can still have your Power of Attorney drafted before or after your Will –the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you need a Power of Attorney, feel free to contact us.