One of the best ways to protect yourself against financial abuse is to ensure that your financial and legal affairs are up to date. This includes having a Power of Attorney and making sure that you are familiar with your rights.
Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada. Financial abuse can happen at any time, but it will often start after a health crisis or after the death of a spouse, partner or close friend. Abusers are usually people who have a close connection to you. They can include your spouse, son or daughter, other relative, friend, neighbour, or caregiver. They use their connection to take advantage of you and force you do what they want. (Government of Canada)
You can take steps to prevent financial abuse!
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives another person the power to look after your financial and property affairs if you cannot do this yourself or if you wish that person to do it for you.
The power that you give this person (the attorney) can be as narrow or as broad as you would like. You get to decide what they can and cannot do while you remain in control! This is a General Power of Attorney that can be specific or limited to a task or certain time period. You may want your attorney to:
- Sell your car
- Write cheques/pay bills
- Make decisions about your property
This type of attorney ends if you become mentally incapable of managing your own affairs. In the terms of Power of Attorney, this means that you are unable to understand financial or legal matters and you do not have the ability to make decisions. This could happen if you were in a comma or unconscious, or if you were to experience dementia or other cognitive impairments.
An Enduring or Continuing Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows an attorney to act on your behalf if you become mentally incapable of managing your finances or property. It often takes effect when you sign it. If you wish to give another person authority to make health and other types of personal, non-financial decisions for you, another type of document will be required. This may vary depending on your province.
A Power of Attorney can be used for many different reasons.
- Norma fell and broke her leg. She will require surgery, and a lengthy stay in the hospital. She has bills at home, which need to be paid.
- Lorne has learned that he has dementia, and may not be able to look after his own affairs much longer. He will be asking his daughter to take over the responsibility of his personal finances.
- Eleanor finds it very difficult to leave her home, as she no longer drives and has limited mobility. Her friend Joyce has offered to help with her finances and legal affairs.
Norma, Lorne and Eleanor are at a point in their lives where they are unable to look after their affairs. They will require the assistance of someone they trust. In their situations, they can use a Power of Attorney to assist.
Remember, financial abuse often starts after a health crisis. Talk with your family or friends early. You can plan ahead by appointing someone to make your decisions when you want them to or incase you lose your capacity to make your decisions. It can give you a peace of mind that you have someone you trust taking care of your affairs if you were to become sick and unable to make decisions.
Who can you appoint as your Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney must be one or more persons who are an adult over the age of 18, mentally capable of acting on your behalf, able to understand and fulfill their duties. They must act as per your wishes, beliefs, instructions, and values.
Being an attorney is not a privilege, it is a responsibility. Duties of an attorney include:
- Act in the person’s best interest
- Act honestly and in good faith
- Keep records of everything
- Exercise care, diligence and skill when acting for the person
What if your Power of Attorney is mismanaging or stealing your money?
An attorney can abuse their power; such abuse may be improper spending/stealing money, or taking your CCP or OAS benefits. If you are mentally capable, you can cancel your power of attorney and demand a full accounting of your financial affairs at any time. Remember, appointing a Power of Attorney does not mean you give away decision making authority, you share it, and therefore you are still in charge.
If theft is involved, call your local police. If you are mentally incapable and someone else has evidence suggesting mismanagement or theft, they should call their local Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPTG).
Look out for yourself and know that this type of abuse can happen to anyone. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone if you think you are being financially abused. Go to your financial institution, local police, or the OPGT to express your concerns. Contact a counselling service agency for emotional support.
Please note that power of attorney varies from province to province. Please check with your province to see what the specifics are in appointing your attorney.