I have been given Power of Attorney. What does that mean?

senior man reading

Outside of Québec, the role of someone appointed under a Power of Attorney (POA) is to step into the shoes of an incapable individual for the purpose of making financial decisions and/or personal care decisions that they can no longer make for themselves. The purpose of a POA is to protect the interests and welfare of the individual who appointed the attorney.

For information regarding incapacity planning in Québec, please see the article “Incapacity Planning in Québec”.

The duties of the attorney are outlined in the POA legal documents. Generally, the attorney will be able to do everything that the grantor can do with respect to their personal matters, unless they are explicitly restricted from doing so.

The nature of the role will depend on the type of POA that has been executed. Generally, there are two main types of POA appointments:

  1. Power of Attorney for Property (POAP)
  2. Power of Attorney for Personal Care (POAPC) (also known in some jurisdictions as a personal care directive)

Appointed as Power of Attorney for Property (POAP)

An individual who has been appointed under a POAP can manage the grantor’s financial affairs and make legal decisions with respect to physical assets. Unless the grantor restricts these powers, the attorney will be able to do almost anything that the grantor can do concerning finances. They can sign documents, start or defend a lawsuit, sell property, make investments and purchase things for the grantor. However, under a POAP, an individual cannot make or change an existing Will, change beneficiaries on a specific insurance product or transfer their duties under the POAP to someone else.

An individual will be able to assume responsibilities under a POAP as soon as it is signed and witnessed, unless the document says otherwise. An attorney is required to keep the grantor’s financial information confidential and should respect the grantor’s privacy unless: (1) the grantor specifically authorizes them to disclose information by saying so in the POAP; or (2) they need to disclose this information to carry out their duties or to abide by the law.

When carrying out their obligations under a POAP, an attorney is generally entitled to take payment from the grantor’s funds at a rate specified by law, which varies by province, unless the grantor states otherwise in the document. An attorney is also required to provide the grantor with a full accounting whenever asked.

Appointed as Power of Attorney for Personal Care (POAPC)

An individual appointed under a POAPC is responsible for managing the personal care and health care decisions of the grantor. With regard to personal care, they may make decisions pertaining to housing, diet, personal hygiene and social life. With respect to health care, they may make decisions regarding medical treatment or the withholding of such treatment. Under a POAPC, the attorney can only make decisions about those aspects of personal care that the grantor cannot make themselves.

Unlike a POAP, a POAPC may only be used during a time that the grantor is mentally incapable of making their own personal care decisions. The attorney is typically responsible for deciding whether the grantor is mentally incapable, with a few exceptions (such as if specified otherwise in the PAPC).

An attorney appointed under a POAPC is also required to keep the grantor’s personal information confidential. As with a POAP, the grantor’s privacy should be respected unless: (1) the grantor specifically authorizes them to disclose information by saying so in the POAPC; or (2) they need to disclose this information to carry out their duties or to abide by the law.

In some instances, a grantor may include “advance directives” in their POAPC. Advance directives are more commonly known as “wishes” and they serve to provide personal instructions to attorneys about the grantor’s personal preferences regarding personal care and health care. An attorney is legally obligated to follow these wishes, if possible.

If you have been appointed under a Power of Attorney and/or have any additional questions 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