The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of regular life, and the practice of law is no different. While much of our practice has been affected in some way by the pandemic, we have received an increase in inquiries regarding estate matters and related documents.
There are a number of documents that we recommend having to protect against unforeseen circumstances and the inevitable. While wills are familiar to most people and certainly important, not as many are familiar with two others: the power of attorney and the representation agreement.
In short, a power of attorney empowers another person (the “attorney”) to act on one’s behalf in legal and financial matters. That person can be a spouse, an adult child, another family member, or a trusted friend, and multiple people can be appointed. There can be a variety of limitations set on this power, but generally the power of attorney is for use only in emergencies.
During the pandemic, the importance of the power of attorney has become especially clear. We have encountered situations where clients have needed to execute documents, but have been unable to do so because of travel restrictions, quarantine, or an unwillingness to attend a notary or lawyer’s office due to personal health concerns.
A power of attorney can be a simple and dependable way around these issues where the attorney named in the document is instead able to attend. This is especially the case when tight timelines are involved, such as for critical real estate or business transactions. It can also be helpful for banking and other financial matters.
Thankfully, British Columbia has been spared the worst of the global pandemic, though it appears likely that COVID-19 and its potential consequences will be with us for some time to come.
Mindful of this and other unforeseen life events, having a representation agreement is generally prudent. This document empowers another person to make decisions on one’s behalf for medical and care-related decision-making in situations of incapacity. While the law in B.C. has mechanisms that can see decision-making deferred to certain family members such as a spouse or children in emergencies when no representation agreement exists, it is preferable to have a document that sets out exactly who one wishes to appoint as an alternate decision-maker. This ensures that the right people are empowered and that one’s wishes are made clear.
Jointly having a will, a power of attorney, and representation agreement can help protect against the uncertainties of life, including the challenges of the current pandemic. This, in turn, often allows people to avoid stressful and sometimes costly applications to the courts.
Jack Montpellier is a barrister and solicitor in Squamish.