Milestones. I can’t help but think of the many milestones I’ve crossed over the years.
Upon turning 16 years old, being able to start the driver’s licensing process was so freeing. Then, turning 18 years old seemed to open up so much more of the world to me. I could vote. I finally and fully had autonomy. Ready or not, I gained control of my life. I was an adult. At least in the eyes of the law.
In entering adulthood, I was now legally able to make independent economic and medical choices such as developing my career by way of contracts, renting an apartment, donating blood, consenting to, or refusing medical treatment, obtaining credit, and designating a Will and Powers of Attorneys.
Many people view appointing their Powers of Attorneys as a task meant for older folks. It’s not. And here is why.
In Ontario, there are two types of Powers of Attorneys – one for property and one for personal care. These documents generally operate while the grantor is alive and not capable of making decisions autonomously, although sometimes they are utilized for specific reasons when the grantor is fully capable or for a specified duration. A named Attorney (which is typically not a lawyer) may make medical, personal care and financial decisions in your best interest on your behalf and do anything you could do for yourself if you were able to, except make a Will.
You may think, “I’m young and I’m healthy. I don’t need this right now” or “I don’t have any assets that require management.” Not true! These documents are most often used because of an accident, illness, cognitive impairment and not necessarily as a result of age-related decline. A lack of assets should not be a factor. A mere twist of fate can land otherwise capable young people in circumstances that require the use of a Power of Attorney.
Here are a few of examples of why it is important for younger adults to get their Powers of Attorneys in place:
Let’s say your adult child, who may still be supported by parents and lives in the parental home, is involved in a catastrophic bicycle or vehicle accident. Without Powers of Attorneys, the parents have no automatic rights to make medical decisions for an injured child over the age of 18. They are also prohibited from taking legal steps on behalf of their child, including commencing a lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle, settling the claim, managing the funds for the benefit of their disabled child or arrange for long-term personal and medical care.
Or, consider the young family, with their first home and young children. Should one spouse, through accident or illness, become incapacitated, not only is the other spouse often tasked with managing the home and children alone, but now has the additional stress of not being empowered to make immediate decisions for their disabled spouse in a timely and cost-efficient manner.
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing people of all ages and economic situations become seriously ill, requiring lengthy hospitalizations, and finding themselves in the position of needing someone else to make medical and financial decisions for them for a period of time.
Powers of Attorney may be helpful in what seems like an innocuous situation such a slip and fall in the shower causing a blow to the head.
What are the alternatives? In the event a person requires someone to make decisions on their behalf but has not appointed one as a Power of Attorney (a relatively inexpensive process, by the way), a family member or friend may consider filing an application with the court to become a court appointed Guardian, which empowers that Guardian with all the abilities of the Power of Attorney documents.
We are fortunate that this process is available if preplanning has not been done, however, it comes with some detriments. A court appointment process takes time, which may be of the essence in a crisis where one has diminished or loss of their cognitive abilities. The person applying to become Guardian may not be someone the injured or afflicted person would have chosen or may not have insight into the personal care wishes and the financial situation of the incapacitated person. Having your Powers of Attorney readily available puts you in control of giving immediate power to the person of your choice to make decisions on your behalf. A court application also costs considerably more, the cost of which typically comes out of the incapacitated person’s assets.
The choice seems obvious, doesn’t it? There is no time like the present-- if you are over the age of 18 and whether you have assets or not-- to contact a lawyer and get your Powers of Attorney for Property and for Personal Care in place.