Estate Planning 101 – Part 3
Elizabeth suffered a fall in which she broke her leg and sustained a concussion, affecting her mobility, memory and cognitive functions. Before her fall, Elizabeth and her friend Francis had discussed assisting each other in case of a crisis but neither had gotten around to making any legal arrangements.
Francis has a key to Elizabeth’s home, so she can walk Elizabeth’s dog and collect her mail and newspaper, but Francis does not have legal authority to ensure Elizabeth’s bills are being paid or look into her health insurance benefits. Francis cannot access information about Elizabeth’s medical care, and has no authority to speak for Elizabeth about which care facility she will be placed at.
Elizabeth and Francis had discussed one another’s wishes regarding personal health care in the event of a crisis or eventual deterioration of their health as they aged. However, health care decisions regarding Elizabeth will be made by the Interior Health Authority or the doctor must speak to Elizabeth’s nearest relative. That is her brother Ted who lives in Toronto and has not seen Elizabeth since last Christmas and speaks with her only occasionally by phone.
Elizabeth’s financial and legal affairs will be passed to the Public Guardian and Trustee, a government body that will take over as her legal guardian unless Ted applies to court for guardianship and becomes her “committee”. Adult guardianship is difficult to reverse, even if Elizabeth recovers her abilities and under committeeship Elizabeth will not be considered a “person” under the law.
Through personal planning you can avoid Elizabeth’s situation – you make your own legally enforceable arrangements with those you trust and who know you best. Personal planning is the act of making one or more legal documents that authorize your personal supporters to assist you in your time of need.
There are relatively inexpensive legal alternatives to adult guardianship. In last month’s column we looked at Enduring Powers of Attorney, respecting your financial and legal affairs. The other important legal document is a Representation Agreement for personal and health matters. This is important to consider for adults who are planning for their future, in the event that they become mentally incapable because of age, accident or illness. The adult can appoint a person they trust to make medical decisions on their behalf in accordance with their wishes and beliefs.
Creating these legal documents will avoid having the court appoint a “committee” of one or more people to look after your financial, legal and personal health affairs in the event that you become mentally incompetent. A committee appointment is much more expensive than making a Representation Agreement and Enduring Power of Attorney.
A lawyer can help you to understand the wide range of issues that arise with a Representation Agreement and an Enduring Power of Attorney. If you would like advice regarding the preparation or amendment of these important legal documents or for more information regarding such matters please contact Chahal Priddle LLP to set up an appointment today.