You may have done a great job ensuring that your estate is maximized and you have left what you wish to whom and what is most important to you.

But what kind of plans have you put in place for managing that estate during your lifetime if something unforeseen and tragic happens? Dementia or serious accidents can happen, leaving you unable to make your own decisions about your life and unable to assist those dependent on you.

A lot of people think that if they are ill or in a coma, suffer a traumatic brain injury in an accident or develop Alzheimer’s their spouse, children or other family members will be allowed to step in and speak for them. This is not what will happen unless you have in place the proper documents naming the person or persons you would like to act for you, a proxy if you will. The person or persons you pick can help to make decisions about your life and assist those dependent upon you.

Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPOA)

An Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) appoints one or more people you consider to be trustworthy, responsible, good with money and possessed of common sense to make decisions about your property and your finances if you are ever in a position where you cannot manage those things yourself. An alternate person is usually named as well in case your first choice(s) cannot or will not act. The person(s) you choose are called your “Attorney”. Your Attorney is not to be confused with a “Lawyer” (Attorney is an American term for lawyer but we don’t use it that way in Canada).

An EPOA can be a standard, “one size fits all” document or it can be customized to meet your particular wishes. Depending on the powers given to your Attorney they do everything from paying for your haircuts and cable TV to managing your investments and perhaps selling your home. They can help you live at home if you have so indicated or look after the cost of a care facility for you.

If specified your Attorney can ensure you continue to support others like your spouse or elderly parents, assist children over eighteen (18) with the costs of their education, run your business…the list goes on.

You can impose limits on your Attorney by being silent about something or by specifically limiting their power in the EPOA document.

Your incapacity or inability to make decisions will be determined by whomever you specify. Most people choose two physicians or psychologists to make the call.

If you do not have an Enduring Power of Attorney ready to “spring” into action if you are incapacitated, then someone close to you will have to spend the time and money to go to Court to get an order appointing a Trustee for you.

Personal Directives (a.k.a. Living Wills)

A Personal Directive (sometimes called a Living Will) goes hand in hand with an Enduring Power of Attorney should you ever be put in a position where you cannot make decisions on your own. As with your property and finances, you need to appoint someone to manage your personal needs and health care if you cannot.

You should choose one or two people whom you know well and trust implicitly to be your Agent. An alternate Agent should be appointed. If you do not prepare for the possibilities of your incapacitation your spouse, children, parents or others close to you do not have the authority to step in and decide things ranging from where you live (your own home or assisted care home? A nursing home?) to how you live (do you get massages? Chiropractor treatment? Chemotherapy?) and even end of life care(do you get surgery to ease the pain of a fractured limb even though cancer will take you next week?).

People should know that a Personal Directive almost always contains a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) clause but it cannot be used for euthanasia or assisted suicide because these are illegal.

The Personal Directive can be a “one size fits all” document or tailored to your specific wishes and preferences.

A Personal Directive takes effect only when it is determined that you are temporarily or permanently unable to make your own personal and health decisions. You can have one person (perhaps your Agent) do so in consultation with a physician or psychologist. You can also give the power to decide your capacity to two medical services providers, one of whom must be a physician or psychologist (the other may be, for instance, a home care nurse).

If you do not have a Personal Directive and you became unable to make your own decisions, then someone close to you will have to spend the time and money to go to Court to get an order appointing a Guardian for you.

Other

Snowbirds

If you plan to travel for extended periods of time out of the province or country, you need to know if that particular locales laws will allow their banks, hospitals, etc. to recognize an Alberta Enduring Power of Attorney and Alberta Personal Directive. If you have a stroke or are in a serious accident while away from home you don’t want to find yourself in no-man’s land. Laws differ from province to province and certainly there are differences between Alberta and say, Arizona, California, Florida or Mexico. You should consult with your lawyer to ensure your Alberta documents will be recognized.

Special Needs

Some people with special needs may be able to do an Enduring Power of Attorney and Personal Directives if they have capacity to do so. This can eliminate the need for a formal Trustee and formal Guardian in some cases.