What are Powers of Attorney?
A legal document whereby a person appoints one or more people to look after their legal and financial affairs, by allowing the person appointed (the attorney) to sign documents on their behalf. A Power of Attorney is a very powerful document and should only be granted to very trusted individuals after careful consideration.
Why make a Power of Attorney?
As a precaution: in the event that you experience a debilitating illness or have an accident that incapacitates you and prevents you from acting on your own behalf.
As a convenience: if you travel and may be out of town when business transactions arise (e.g. bills need to be paid, or your house is listed and an offer comes in while you are away).
What happens if you don’t?
If you have not appointed someone as your attorney and you become mentally incapacitated, no one has the legal right to act on your behalf (not even your spouse). Your finances may not be available to pay your rent, utilities and other expenses. Assets like a home or a vehicle cannot be sold, even if you can no longer live in the home or drive the vehicle. Of particular importance, a home or land held jointly by two or more individuals requires the signatures of all the individuals to sell, mortgage or otherwise deal with.
Once an individual has become incapacitated an attorney can no longer be appointed. In this instance the Public Trustee will administer his/her affairs. If a family member or friend would like to take control of a loved one’s affairs, he/she must apply to the courts for a legal appointment called a Committeeship. The person named as the Committee will have to report to the public trustee as to what decisions they have made and how money has been spent. This costly and lengthy process can be avoided with a Power of Attorney.