By iA Private Wealth, April 29, 2022
What is power of attorney?
Most adults are responsible for making their own decisions about key aspects of their lives, such as personal finances, health care and living arrangements. When needed they might consult family members, trusted friends or professionals with proficiency in certain fields, but generally they are in control of their own choices.
No one likes to think about the possibility of having to give up control of these responsibilities, however, if there is a significant deterioration to mental or physical health, who would you want making these decisions for you? This person (or people) will act as a substitute decision maker, and is officially called a power of attorney (POA).
A POA document specifies the decision-making authority that a person (typically referred to as the “grantor” or “donor”) gives to a third party (known as the “attorney”). Note that the attorney doesn’t need to be a lawyer, but can be if the grantor so chooses. While the attorney is legally obligated to act in good faith and in your best interests (otherwise known as “fiduciary duty”), careful thought must go into choosing this person. They will have the ability to make highly impactful decisions on your behalf.
Types of POAs
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may choose to make different types of POA arrangements. The most common are:
A POA for property only gives the attorney powers when the grantor is mentally capable. If you want this arrangement to continue should you become mentally incapacitated, then opt for an enduring POA (also known as a continuing POA). A POA for personal care takes effect only if the grantor becomes mentally incapacitated, as determined by a thorough assessment by a qualified evaluator or medical professional.
For any POA, you have the ability to place limits on the attorney’s powers, such as restricting them from selling your home. Also note that an attorney is not allowed to designate or change beneficiaries for your registered plans or insurance policies.
Importance of beneficiary designations
Since your chosen attorney cannot designate beneficiaries, it’s important to do it while you maintain adequate mental capacity. This way, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that your assets will be distributed to the people you have specifically selected. Through your will, you may also decide how your assets are distributed (for example, it’s common to set up trust accounts for minors).
Without named beneficiaries, your assets will go to your estate and the court may decide how to allocate them. This might be a slow and expensive process, plus there’s no guarantee your assets will be distributed as you desire. It’s in everyone’s best interest to designate beneficiaries on insurance policies and registered plans like RRSPs, RRIFs and TFSAs.This article is a general discussion of certain issues intended as general information only and should not be relied upon as tax or legal advice. Please obtain independent professional advice, in the context of your particular circumstances. iA Private Wealth Inc. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. iA Private Wealth is a trademark and business name under which iA Private Wealth Inc. operates.