What is a Power of Attorney? Do I need one?

By James Russell with Amra Selimovic

As you go through life, unexpected situations can arise that may leave you unable to make important decisions about your own affairs. In those situations, having a Power of Attorney in place can provide peace of mind and help ensure your affairs are handled according to your wishes.

Where a Will deals with your property after you pass away, a Power of Attorney allows a person to manage your property and finances while you are still alive. It allows an individual, the “donor”, to appoint someone, the “attorney”, to make property and financial decisions on their behalf.

It is important to note that “attorney” in this context does not mean a lawyer, but refers to anyone who is appointed to manage your affairs under a Power of Attorney. The attorney can be given broad powers to manage all aspects of the donor’s affairs, or more limited, specific powers, such as authority to deal with the sale of a house, or finances. In Nova Scotia, the more common type drafted is the broader, general Power of Attorney, which is often drafted to ensure that the attorney is able to use it while the donor is incapacitated.

There are many reasons why having a Power of Attorney is important. Firstly, it provides a clear plan for managing your affairs in the event you are incapable of managing your own affairs. If an individual loses capacity without a Power of Attorney in place, family members are often left having to take steps to be appointed by a Court as the incapacitated person’s representative. This is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, which can occasionally produce family conflict, and may even result in a person being appointed who the incapacitated individual may not have wanted.

Additionally, having a Power of Attorney can help protect your assets and ensure your financial affairs are managed properly. For example, if a person becomes incapacitated and unable to manage their finances, bills may go unpaid or investments may be mishandled. Through a Power of Attorney, the donor can plan to have their affairs handled properly in the event that they require assistance, or are unable handle these matters themselves.

Over the summer of 2022, Nova Scotia introduced new changes to Powers of Attorney. Some of these changes include new requirements to create a valid Power of Attorney. Others have been implemented as safeguards, such as permitting a donor’s immediate family members (spouse, registered domestic partner, common-law partner, adult children, adult siblings, or parents) to request, in certain circumstances, that an Attorney account to them on all transactions they have made on behalf of incapacitated individual.

While these changes may be welcome to some people, to others, the changes that apply to their existing documents may not be desired, especially when considering the additional burdens that may be created for family members. Others may have concerns with their personal and financial information potentially being accessed by family members not appointed under their Power of Attorney. It is best to discuss your desires with a lawyer to ensure that your existing Power of Attorney still accomplishes your wishes.

This article is for information only and is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions or would like further information, you should consult a lawyer.