A power of attorney is a legal document. When you give someone power of attorney you give him or her the legal power to take care of financial and legal matters for you. This might include paying bills, depositing or withdrawing money from your bank account, investing your money, or selling your house.
The person you give this power to is called the attorney. In this case, attorney does not mean lawyer. You are called the adult.
A power of attorney does not give the attorney authority to make decisions about your health care or personal care. It covers financial and legal matters only.
A power of attorney is different from a will, which provides for the distribution of the things you own after your death. A power of attorney is a way to plan for the handling of your affairs during your lifetime.
There are many reasons people make a power of attorney. One reason is because they are physically unable to look after their affairs due to travel or injury.
Another reason is in case they become mentally incapable due to illness, disease or accident. With an enduring power of attorney, you can appoint someone to act on your behalf for financial and legal affairs in case you become mentally incapable.
If you become mentally incapable and you do not have an enduring power of attorney, your family may have to go to court to get the legal right to manage your affairs.
A power of attorney is a simple and inexpensive way to plan ahead and choose who will help you with your finances.
The law sets out who will make health care and treatment decisions for you when you no longer can. You can plan ahead by making a representation agreement that names whoever you want to make those decisions, such as a friend, relative, spouse, or adult children. A representation agreement can also cover routine financial and legal matters.
In considering the differences between a power of attorney and a representation agreement, a lawyer or notary public can guide you on which documents best fit your situation.
When making a power of attorney, you can choose anybody as your attorney, so long as they are:
Most people choose their spouse, a family member or a friend as their attorney.
For a fee you can choose a trust company as your attorney. You can also name the Public Guardian and Trustee (a government official).
TIP: Your attorney will have significant power, so choose somebody you trust, and who is comfortable with financial matters. Take the time to talk with that person about what you want and would expect them to do.
You can appoint more than one person as your attorney. If you do, you must write in the document whether they will act together or individually.
If you name only one attorney, it is very important to name an alternate who will take over if something happens to your attorney. However, you also need to describe very clearly the circumstances when an alternate may take over.
Yes. The person you name as your attorney does not have to live in BC.
Your attorney is entitled to be paid back for any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses. If you want to pay your attorney a fee, you must write this in the power of attorney. The document must authorize the fee and set out the rate.
If a trust company or the Public Guardian and Trustee is your attorney, they will ask you to sign an agreement that says they can charge fees.
The attorney is like your agent. He or she must act honestly, in good faith and in your best interests. Your attorney must keep careful records of any financial activities, and must keep your affairs separate from his or her own.
A general power of attorney gives your attorney the power to do anything financial or legal that you can’t do for yourself. This could include dealing with bank or credit union accounts, getting information from Canada Revenue Agency in order to do your income tax, insuring or selling your car, or selling real estate.
Can I have a power of attorney for a specific purpose?
You can limit your attorney’s powers by making a specific power of attorney only for a specific task. For example, you can give someone power of attorney to sell a particular piece of property or you can give them powers for a limited period of time.
Before you make a power of attorney you may want to talk to a friend, family member, community advocate, or legal professional. You can also insist that your attorney get legal advice about his or her responsibilities.
Attorneys must keep accurate records, and attorneys must not take a personal benefit from the person’s assets. Be sure you choose someone you trust. If possible, name more than one person. Talk to these people before you appoint them and make sure they understand what you expect from them, and when you expect them to act.
A power of attorney takes effect as soon as it is signed, but it does not have to be used until you need help. You may want to give the power of attorney document to someone else you trust, and tell him or her when to give it to the attorney.
You can put limits on the power you give your attorney. You can require the attorney to keep records of your finances and show you those records regularly. You should also review your bank statements.
If you want your attorney to have the power to sell your real estate property or deal with mortgages or easements, there are special requirements.
You must go to a lawyer or notary public to have the document prepared, and here are a few things you should know:
A power of attorney comes into effect as soon as it is signed. However, it does not have to be used immediately. Make sure your attorney knows when you want him or her to act.
When does the power of attorney end?
A specific power of attorney ends when the job it describes is done, or on the date it specifies. For example, if you make a specific power of attorney to sell a piece of property, the power of attorney ends when the property is sold.
A general power of attorney automatically ends in these circumstances:
You can also cancel a power of attorney at any time.
Yes. However, you should check it over to make sure that it will do what you want and the information is accurate. You may decide to make a new one.
It’s a good idea to review all your financial affairs (including your will) every two or three years. Addresses change, and so do people’s lives. Stay up to date.
Each province in Canada has its own laws and procedures for powers of attorney. This publication applies to residents of British Columbia who have finances and property in BC. For information about powers of attorney in another province or country, it’s best to consult a legal professional. You may also want to check your local library or bookstores for a book called Power of Attorney Kit by Self Counsel Press, or contact a public legal education and information provider in your province.
Possibly. However, the safest approach is to check with a lawyer in that province or territory.
It is likely the power of attorney made in one province will be recognized in another. However, it may not be effective in dealing with all real estate matters.
Most people will go to a notary public or a lawyer to prepare their power of attorney. In fact, you must sign the power of attorney in the presence of a notary public or lawyer in order for the power of attorney to be recognized at the Land Title Office (see above).
According to ICBC, your power of attorney must be notarized for your attorney to have the power to renew the insurance or sell your vehicle (if you can’t do it yourself). Notarizing means a lawyer or notary public puts his or her seal on the document when you make it, to confirm that you and the witness signed it in front of him or her.
Particularly if you have a complicated or unusual situation, it’s best to get some professional help. If you go to a lawyer or notary public, find out how much they will charge you. Phone around and compare prices. See the Where to Get Help section for help finding a legal professional.
This resource is derived from Power of Attorney © People's Law School. It is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.
Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School in October 2015.
IMPORTANT: This page provides legal information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.
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