Life can change overnight. 2 families share what people should know about power of attorney

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Black Art White Coat26:30What this woman wants you to know about power of attorney

When Dr. Mary Jarratt’s brother, Billy Jarratt, asked her in 2018 if he could appoint her as his proxy in case something happened to him, she paid no attention.

Billy’s wife had just died. So, while updating his will, he also had to designate a new person to make medical and financial decisions for him if he could no longer do so himself.

“Billy was the last person you would have thought would become disabled,” Mary told CBC radio show host Dr. Brian Goldman. White blouse, black art.

“Billy led a very active lifestyle. He had a very good job. He was in the senior management of the Town of Oromocto, NB, for 32 years…he worked out at the gym every day.”

But in January 2023, at the age of 58, he suffered a severe hemispheric stroke that left him unable to speak and dependent on a wheelchair.

Mary is a family doctor in Saint John – so is familiar with power of attorney situations – but she says she still underestimated what it entails. She is now calling for greater awareness of the subject and easier access to resources for Canadians to help them make informed decisions about power of attorney and prepare to take over if necessary.

A woman shows holding a photo frame showing several photos.
Mary shows a picture frame with photos of her brother before his stroke. (Brian Goldman/CBC)

The laws governing powers of attorney (POA) vary depending on your province or territory, as does some of the terminology. In New Brunswick, where the Jarratts live, the process is guided by the Enduring Powers of Attorney Act which came into force in 2020.

You can grant power of attorney for a short period of time when you need someone to take care of a financial matter while you are out of province. In contrast, an Enduring Power of Attorney is required in an ongoing situation like Billy’s.

There are two types of enduring powers of attorney: an attorney for personal care, who makes decisions about your health care, and an attorney for property, for financial matters. These tasks can be assigned separately. However, if it is the same person, the problem can be resolved using a single form in New Brunswick.

Mary Jarratt said when it became clear Billy was going to survive his stroke, it was time for her to start trying to take matters into her own hands.

“Billy owns a house, he has a son who goes to school and two (adult) stepchildren who were living with him at the time,” she said. “Lots of bills and various responsibilities.”

Searching for documents

Their biggest mistake, according to Mary? Billy had not given his sister a copy of his will and power of attorney. Without these documents, she would not be able to accomplish the crucial work she needed to do. His lawyer was retired and had not kept copies of his client’s files.

Initially, they found a copy, Mary said, but for privacy and fraud prevention reasons the bank needed the originals so it could access its accounts.

Once these were found, the next major hurdle was utility bills. “The challenge today is that everything is electronic,” she said.

Billy didn’t have a reliable shoebox or an accordion file containing everything she would need. He was the only one with the account numbers, let alone the access codes. She had to gradually approach each organization and figure out how to access them.

A man in a hospital-style bed looks at a woman leaning over the edge of her bed.
Billy looks at his sister during a visit to the assisted living facility where he has lived since leaving the hospital following a stroke in January 2023. (Brian Goldman/CBC)

But that’s just the financial side of the equation. Mary also had to make sure there was a plan to care for her nephew, Billy’s son, Shane, who still had a year of high school to complete (one of the hockey moms in Shane’s life l ‘taken in so he could do his 12th grade with his friends), find a residential care facility for Billy and – ultimately – make the difficult decision to sell his house.

Lawyer Kavina Nagrani, who specializes in estate and elder law in Ontario, said she recommends that the person named by the POA documents at least know the location of a folder of documents containing the information relevant to the POA. in case something happens.

“The tasks are endless”

Michelle McDonald, executive director of the non-profit Brain Injury Canada, said “the duties of a support worker are “endless” and often add to hands-on care.

“I don’t think people understand the magnitude of this situation,” McDonald said. She noted that – in most cases – this is good because the worst never happens.

But through her organization’s work with people affected by brain injuries, she has witnessed the complex situations lawyers must navigate. “And there’s really no training,” McDonald said.

When you Google the topic, the top results come mostly from law firms, so it’s difficult to get unbiased information, she said.

“Since the impairments associated with brain injury can be cognitive, physical, emotional or behavioral, this can be a challenge in itself for someone holding power of attorney,” she said.

“This person themselves may not know that they need someone, or they may be reluctant to have someone else make decisions for them.”

She says more could be done to support family caregivers in the role of advocate by creating resources and training.

When we were younger, everything was theoretical and abstract. This time it was real.-Mike Cels

When Mike Cels, of Oakville, Ontario, was first diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative motor neuron disease, at age 54 in 2017, he and his wife, Carmen Cels, had a lot of things to do. . Fortunately, the concept of power of attorney was not new to them.

Married in 1996, they wrote a will when they had children a few years later, Mike said. The next time they needed an update – but while they were both still healthy – they appointed each other as power of attorney.

A man in an electric wheelchair smiles broadly as he poses in front of an ancient building while traveling.
Mike Cels, who lives with ALS, traveled to Petra, Jordan, with his wife, Carmen Cels, in early 2020, their last international trip before the pandemic shut down all travel. Petra was a must-visit destination for Mike. (Submitted by Carmen Cels)

Speaking to CBC using assistive technology that allows him to use his eyes to type out answers to questions, Mike said that when his illness progressed significantly in 2020, he and Carmen “realized we had to update to ensure it reflects our new reality.”.

“When we were younger, everything was theoretical and abstract,” he said. “This time it was real.”

Today, the couple’s power of attorney documents account for all scenarios, including each needing a backup attorney in case something unexpected happens.

Carmen said she keeps a portfolio of documents including their wills, powers of attorney, financial details, cemetery plots and contact numbers for their lawyer and financial planner. One copy is in a safe and another is in an encrypted computer file that their children, now in their 20s, know how to access.

A man in an electric wheelchair is surrounded by two young adult children and his wife on a lawn with trees in the background.
Mike, pictured here in his wheelchair with, from left, his son Jonathan, his wife Carmen and his daughter Cynthia, at a wedding in Winnipeg in September 2023, was diagnosed with ALS in 2017. He said than the fact that they have already taken to establish proxies. (Submitted by Carmen Cels)

As it stands, Carmen says, Mike is still making decisions about his health care. “By advocating for his care today, I can identify options and potential care plans, and I can suggest reasonable next steps. And yet sometimes he chooses a path that I would not have expected or chosen for him.

“And so sometimes I wonder if I can make the decision that Mike would want when the time comes and he can’t direct me.”

Crucial conversations

It takes a lot of open conversations about what kind of scenarios they may face with disease progression, Mike said.

It’s the kind of conversation people don’t get to have when their circumstances change dramatically overnight, as was the case for Billy Jarratt.

Looking back, Mary said she regretted not speaking to her brother about her wishes sooner. She wants others to avoid the same pain.

“If someone asks you to be a POA, spend an hour sitting down with them to get a sense of what their wishes would be and maybe some basics about their finances, about their house…and what he would want for his children.”

Produced by Colleen Ross

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