Power of Attorney for Property

Older person counting coins in her palm

A Power of Attorney for property (POAP) is a legal document that allows an individual (called the “grantor”) to appoint someone (called the “attorney”) to act on their behalf to make decisions about legal and financial affairs.

This article provides an overview of the law in provinces and territories other than Quebec (for information regarding Québec, please see the article “Incapacity Planning in Québec”). Since each province and territory has separate legislation governing the creation of a POAP, appropriate legal advice should be sought in the relevant province.

Types of Powers of Attorney for Property

A POAP may be a general POAP, which allows the attorney to deal with all decisions regarding finances and property, or it may be a limited POAP, which allows the attorney to make decisions for a specific purpose or time (for example, to complete a particular transaction).

An ‘enduring’ or ‘continuing’ POAP remains in effect once the donor loses capacity.  If the POAP is not specifically designated as enduring or continuing, it ceases to be effective when the donor loses capacity to manage property.

Normally, a POAP takes effect when it is signed.  A ‘springing’ POAP only takes effect after a certain event or trigger (such as if the donor becoming incapable of making decisions).

Who can I name as my attorney?

When choosing an attorney, consider whether the person named is someone who can be trusted with handling money. They should be able to understand the affairs of the grantor, and be able to pick up managing them at whatever stage. An attorney must be 18 years of age or older. Some provinces have additional requirements, such as conditions that the attorney cannot be mentally incompetent, or bankrupt.

More than one person can be named as an attorney under a POAP. If multiple attorneys are named, the POAP should be clear as to whether attorneys must act together (jointly) or may act independently (jointly and severally). If there are more than two named attorneys, a POAP should be clear as to whether a majority of them may act.

While it is generally possible to appoint an attorney from another jurisdiction from a legal perspective, many practical and other issues may arise.  For example, residents of the USA may not be permitted to give trading instructions on the investment account of a Canadian resident in certain situations.  It is important to consult with a TEP prior to designating an attorney or attorney(s) to ensure that they are appropriate for this role.

Creating an Enduring or Continuing Power of Attorney for Property

Anyone who is 18 years of age or older and who has the necessary level of mental capacity can create an enduring or continuing POAP. Mental capacity, in this situation, requires that a grantor:

  • Knows what property they have and its approximate value;
  • Is aware of their obligations to people (if any) who depend on them financially;
  • Understands what they are giving an attorney the authority to do;
  • Understands that the attorney is required to account for the decisions they make about the grantor’s property;
  • Understands that, as long as they have mental capacity, they can revoke (cancel) the POAP;
  • Understands that if the attorney does not manage the grantor’s financial assets properly, their value may decrease; and
  • Understands that there is always a chance of the attorney misusing their authority.

To create a valid enduring or continuing POAP, the document must:

  • Be called an ‘Enduring’ or ‘Continuing’ Power of Attorney for Property (as appropriate) or say explicitly that it allows an attorney to continue acting if the grantor becomes mentally incapable;
  • Name one or more persons to act as an attorney for property;
  • Be signed and dated by the grantor; and
  • Be signed by two valid witnesses who witness the document (in some provinces, it may be possible to have only one witness where that witness is a lawyer or notary public).

In certain jurisdictions, additional witnessing requirements may be in effect.  For example, in British Columbia it is generally required that the attorneys execute certain documents acknowledging that they are aware of the POAP and consent to act.

Once the POAP is executed, it should be stored in a safe place where the attorney can access it quickly if needed. A POAP can also be stored with a trusted third party (such as the drafting lawyer), with specific instructions regarding when to release it.

When does a POAP take effect?

An enduring or continuing POAP takes effect immediately upon being signed and witnessed, unless the document states otherwise (i.e., unless it is a springing POAP). If the POAP is to take effect only after the grantor has become mentally incapable of managing their finances, the document must be clear about that limitation.

When does my Enduring or Continuing POAP end?

An enduring or continuing POAP ends when:

  • The named attorney(s) die or become mentally incapable;
  • A Court appoints a Guardian of the Property for the grantor;
  • The grantor signs a new POAP while still mentally capable (this is not the automatic result of signing a new POAP in all provinces. Accordingly, the new POAP should be clear with respect to whether or not it is intended to revoke existing POAPs);
  • The POAP is revoked while the grantor is still mentally capable; or
  • The grantor dies (on the death of the grantor, attorneys will no longer be able to deal with bank accounts or other assets).

Will my POAP be recognized abroad?

A Canadian POAP may be valid in foreign jurisdictions, although third parties in other countries will likely require a court order to validate the POAP. To avoid any delay or minimize any concerns associated with the validity of a Canadian POAP while abroad, individuals are generally encouraged to execute Powers of Attorney in each foreign jurisdiction where property or money is situated.

In the event that arrangements have not been made to create a Power of Attorney in the foreign jurisdiction, a Canadian POAP may be acceptable. Some jurisdictions have specific wording and signing requirements for foreign POAPs to be valid. Anyone affected by this situation should seek advice from legal professionals in those jurisdictions. A TEP can direct inquiries to trusted advisors in their international TEP network.

What if I don’t have an Enduring or Continuing POAP?

A guardian (or trustee) may be appointed by the Court for individuals who become mentally incapable of managing property without a valid enduring or continuing POAP. A family member or friend may apply to a Court to be given permission to manage the individual’s assets. If family or friends do not want to be burdened with this role, they may ask a trust company to apply to the Court to be a statutory guardian. If no one else has been appointed, the Public Guardian and Trustee of the jurisdiction of residence may take on this role.

For further information or help preparing a POAP, please consult a TEP.

Disclaimer

An article of this kind can never provide a complete guide to the law in these areas, which may be subject to change from time to time. The opinions and suggestions made within this article should not be interpreted as specific advice in relation to any particular individual or individuals. Neither STEP, the article author or their firm accept responsibility for any loss occasioned by someone acting or refraining to act on the basis of the opinions and suggestions contained in this article. More