Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Why it’s important to have Powers of Attorney in place
January 1, 2009, 5:42 pm
Filed under: Communication, Estate Planning, Marriage, retirement
From the October 1, 2007 issue of Canadian Mennonite
Failing to planMike StrathdeeMost of us put off preparing for worst-case scenarios. But changes in what health care and financial institutions require of clients means that there are many good reasons to get our affairs in order—for the sake of those we love, if nothing else.

People generally don’t realize the need to have valid Powers of Attorney for Health Care (known in some provinces as advanced/health care directives, living wills or proxy directives) in place, so someone can advocate for them if they can’t speak for themselves.

A recent Royal Bank survey found that only about 48 percent of adult Canadians have wills. A chaplain at a hospital in Kitchener, Ont., says his guess is that as few as 5 percent of the people he works with have a valid power of attorney.

Increased concerns about liability, and the fear of being sued, lead health care professionals to take a hard line on the issue of informed consent to treatment. If a tragedy left you unable to express your wishes, would you want to leave the decisions on treatment in the hands of people who may not know your values?

Here are a few stories about what can go wrong.

A few years ago, a Kitchener lawyer gave an example of the extra stress that can result from a lack of preparation. A woman went to check on her elderly mother, and found her on the kitchen floor, unable to speak coherently. The ambulance was called, but the mother had never granted power of attorney to anyone. The daughter couldn’t prove her mom wanted to go to the hospital, so she was forced to call a cab.

The daughter couldn’t prove her mom wanted to go to the hospital, so she was forced to call a cab.

Inaction in authorizing people to represent us can have serious financial repercussions as well. A man recently told me how his wife, aged 52 and 10 years his junior, had suffered a serious coronary attack five weeks earlier and was in a coma. Her workplace benefits package entitled her to apply for disability coverage, but the insurer was balking at processing an application from a spouse who couldn’t prove he had the right to speak for her. The couple had never considered the possibility that she might be the one to become incapacitated. No power of attorney had been designated.

In another case, a Cambridge, Ont., couple was selling their home when the husband became incapacitated due to an aneurysm. Both names were on the deed, so the husband’s signature was required to complete the transaction. They had never given each other power of attorney, so she was unable to complete the sale quickly. When the deal closed, half of the sale proceeds were sent to the Ontario Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, to be held in trust for her husband. She had to apply to the courts for official guardianship of her husband, a process that took several months.

It is wise to set in place instructions about who should be in charge if you can’t be.

Ask your area Mennonite Foundation of Canada consultant for a free Estate Planning Guide or for guidance in your decision-making.

Mike Strathdee, CFP is a stewardship consultant with Mennonite Foundation of Canada’s Kitchener, Ont., office. For stewardship education, estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit mennofoundation.ca.


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