Powers of Attorney & Living Wills

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The following advice is for Ontario only. For other provinces, contact a lawyer in your area.

Along with a will, there are three other separate free-standing documents you need to have to protect your family: two types of powers of attorney (financial and medical) and a living will, also known as an advance care directive.

Many people think they don’t need a power of attorney because they have a will, but a will doesn’t take affect until an individual dies.

Powers of attorney (POA) offer protection when an individual is alive but is deemed incompetent and unable to handle their own financial or medical affairs. Without these financial and medical powers of attorney, the government may step in and freeze your assets and make your financial and medical decisions for you.

That’s why it’s important to have your POAs prepared now when you are competent. Everyone over the age of 18 should have both types of POAs, with medical POAs covering both mental and physical incapacity.

Some people have a POA that names someone they trust to act on their behalf should they become mentally incapacitated. However, the medical POA should also include physical incapacity.

For example, a woman who has multiple sclerosis.- although she is mentally competent she is unable to sign her name. If the POA covered only her mental incapacity, her appointees would have difficulty acting on her behalf.

In a first marriage, in most cases spouses who trust each other appoint each other.

Another example, where a  man in his late 50s had a stroke. He and his spouse were listed as joint tenants on the title of their house. The matrimonial home is often in the names of both spouses as joint tenants. However that doesn’t mean that one spouse can sign the other’s name without a financial power of attorney for instances of refinancing or selling the house. Having joint ownership means the other will get ownership upon death.

If a doctor declares you mentally incompetent, if you have a POA, all the person you appoint has to do is tell the government you have a POA, sign some forms and the government will relinquish control.

The living will, or advance care directive, is an important document that outlines your medical wishes.

POAs should be kept at home for easy access in case of an emergency. Tell your family where they are.

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