If your loved one is affected by a disease, such as Alzheimer’s, which is a form of dementia and impacts a person’s mental abilities, they may be unable to make decisions for themselves. This means, someone, usually a family member or members, will have to take over that responsibility. This will be done with a Power of Attorney (POA). 

A Power of Attorney who deals with a person’s financial affairs is a Power of Attorney for Property. A Power of Attorney who is responsible for a person’s health-related issues, sometimes known as a Living Will or Health Care Directive, is a Power of Attorney for Personal Care. 

Your advisor can assist you in establishing this arrangement. However, it’s advisable also to consult a lawyer to ensure it’s appropriately structured and all legal issues have been considered.

The enduring or continuing Power of Attorney for Property

A POA for property is a legal document that gives someone the right to act (as an attorney) in another person’s place. A general POA is a compelling document that allows the attorney to do almost anything that the person granting it was able to do. For example, the attorney could sell all the donor’s investments or sell their house. However, the agreement can be structured in such a way that the attorney only has specific powers or rights. When a general POA is granted, it is assumed that the donor has the mental capacity to do so. Ordinarily, the powers granted would cease if the donor became mentally incapacitated. Therefore, if the POA is being established in anticipation of the donor’s later mental incapacity, it must be structured as a Continuing or Enduring POA. This will ensure that the powers granted to the attorney will continue if the donor is no longer capable of making their own decisions.

A professional should be consulted when a Power of Attorney is being considered. There are legal and family issues that need to be addressed if this route is taken.

Power of Attorney for Personal Care

This document is sometimes known as a Living Will, although there can be some differences depending on where you live. It gives the designated person or people the power to make decisions regarding the medical treatment of the person when they are unable to. Some of the issues that can be addressed by the attorney are:

  1. Hospice care
  2. Change of physicians
  3. Use of experimental treatments
  4. Nutrition
  5. The use of ‘heroic measures’ to prolong life

An advantage of having a POA for Personal Care in place is the ability to make health care decisions in a timely way. In the absence of this arrangement, the concept of patient/doctor confidentiality may mean you are not able to determine all the facts about your loved one’s situation and cannot make decisions effectively. To deal with a loved one’s condition effectively there should be a Power of Attorney for Property as well as a Power of Attorney for Personal Care in place.

One person can be named as the attorney, or it can be a joint responsibility. The attorney will generally have to be at least 16 years of age. Some people may be restricted such as the individual’s doctor or nurse.

Generally, the POA becomes valid when a competent health care provider decides that the individual is no longer able to make their own decisions. However, it is highly advisable to seek advice from a qualified professional.

Power of Attorney issues are a provincial/territorial concern, and there are different legal treatments for these arrangements in different parts of Canada. Also, legal counsel will help to ensure that the document is structured properly to deal with the specific situation.

Health care costs

Older adults typically have far more medical issues and expenses than younger people, and depending on the nature of those expenses, the individual or their families may have to pay for them.

Although there are provincial and territorial variations, all Canadians can assume that their primary, essential health care needs will be met under government programs. While we are quite fortunate as Canadians with regards to our health care, some expenses are not covered by the government. Now that your family member or loved one has an illness, you may be concerned about what those expenses may be and how you will be able to pay for them.

For example, the cost of prescription drugs is the second-largest health expense in Canada after hospital care. However, out-of-hospital drug costs are not covered under the Canada Health Act, so any reimbursements for prescription drugs are a provincial and territorial concern. The amount of coverage varies fairly dramatically across the country, but as a general rule, seniors will receive assistance in covering drug costs. Those who receive social assistance will pay only as much as 35% of the costs. Consequently, it should be assumed that there will most likely be drug expenses incurred that will not be reimbursed by the government.

Fortunately, many retirees/seniors will have some degree of private or company insurance that will cover at least some of their prescription costs. You should contact your provincial/territorial authorities to determine if your loved one is eligible for government drug expense assistance. You should also investigate whether they are covered under any company or private insurance.

Examples of some of the other health-related expenses that will not be covered by provincial plans are:

  • Wheelchairs or other transportation devices
  • Hearing aids
  • Alterations to a home to improve its accessibility
  • In-home care
  • Special vehicles

However, there are several government programs that can help pay for these costs.

Health Canada website for senior health and well-being

Canadians are enjoying longer life spans and better health than ever before. The proportion of seniors in the Canadian population is expected to double by 2025. Health Canada is proactively conducting research and planning to understand the needs of Canadian seniors better and to ensure that programs and services respond to Canada’s ageing demographic. Visit Seniors Healthy Living for more information.

Provincial 24-hour health lines

If at any time your family member or loved one requires important health information, they can call the following 24-hour health lines:

  • Alberta: 1.866.408.5465
  • British Columbia: 1.800.661.4337
  • Manitoba: 1.800.782.2437 or 204.940.2200
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 1.888.709.2929
  • New Brunswick: 1.877.784.1010
  • Northwest Territories: 1.888.255.1010
  • Nova Scotia: 1.800.566.2437
  • Nunavut: 867.975.5700
  • Ontario: 1.866.797.0000
  • Prince Edward Island: 902.368.4947
  • Quebec: 811
  • Saskatchewan: 1.877.800.0002
  • Yukon: 811

For all health emergencies, you are advised to visit your local hospital or call 911.

Becoming someone’s Power of Attorney is a big responsibility. Talk it over with your Scotiabank advisor to help better understand the role.

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