Caring for Loved Ones at Home

An Illustrated, Easy-to-Follow Guide to Short or Long-term Care 4th Edition.

12. Powers of Attorney

Powers of Attorney give written directions about what a person may want in different situations. As legal tools they leave many unanswered questions. As communication tools, they encourage people to talk about what they want and still leave enough room for flexibility as situations change.

A Power of Attorney document gives a designated family member or another trusted person the right to make legal decisions in situations where the person cannot decide for themselves.

There are generally two types of Power of Attorney forms: (1) dealing with personal care concerns including health care decisions (treatment and services), home care decisions, food, living arrangements, housing, clothing, hygiene, safety and life and death decisions, and (2) dealing with financial, banking, insurance and other legal issues.

The financial power of attorney takes effect immediately upon signing unless you specify otherwise (e.g., only when you become legally incompetent to make financial and legal decisions yourself). The personal care power of attorney comes into effect when you cannot make decisions any more (e.g., in a coma or you are legally declared incompetent).

It is also often suggested that one person should not have authority over both these general categories as there may be a conflict of interest. For example, one might be less likely to demand certain medical interventions if they know it will deplete a person's financial savings. By splitting up the two categories, there are at least two people who can speak up for the person who is ill. This may not always be practical when the person has only a spouse, child or friend to act in both capacities. It is especially important in this circumstance to have honest and open communication about what the person does, and does not, want done in various situations.

The person you designate is often referred to legally as a substitute decision maker. There are rules about who cannot act as your substitute decision maker and who cannot witness your power of attorney. Ask your lawyer for advice or use the forms approved by your province and state that list who can, and cannot, act for you.

If you travel a lot and are likely to be outside your province or state, you should get a lawyer to look into whether your powers of attorney will be valid in the places you intend to visit.

Each province and state has different rules in place about Powers of Attorney. Get a legal form from either bookstores, government offices, libraries, software packages, or through your lawyer.

You can make up your own form but make sure that you follow your local governmental regulations about the correct format of these legal documents to minimize errors.

The difference between power of attorney and substitute decision making forms?legally, none. The power of attorney document states who will make substitute decisions for you. There are also documents called Living Wills. These documents state in writing what you want done in certain medical emergencies (e.g., whether you want to receive blood transfusions, be resuscitated if you stop breathing, put on life support systems temporarily). Personal Powers of Attorney do the same thing with the added benefit of appointing a legal 'attorney' or 'substitute decision maker' to ensure that your wishes are followed during a medical emergency.

Sample wording of a Personal Power of Attorney:

I, _______, revoke any and all previous power of attorney for personal care made by me and appoint _______ (one or more people) to be my attorney(s) for personal care in accordance with the laws of my government. These attorneys will act(you choose either separately, e.g., either can decide for you or jointly, e.g., they have to agree on all decisions). If any or all of my attorney(s) cannot or will not act on my behalf for whatever reasons, I appoint _______ name(s) to act in their place. My attorneys have the authority to make all personal care decisions on my behalf if I am mentally incapable of doing so myself including the consent or refusal for treatment decisions. The following are specific instructions, conditions and restrictions on their authority to make decisions for me(you don't have to be specific but may want to describe aspects of care that are very important to you, including which treatments you want to have done and which you do not.)

Different jurisdictions have different rules about the wording, who can act on your behalf and who cannot, and how the document needs to be signed. For example, the law may require that you have to sign and date the document yourself and have it witnessed by two others.

Back to Table of ContentsCaring_for_Loved_Ones.htmlFamily_Hospice_Care.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

Caring for Loved Ones at Home

Below is a FREE iBook of our book Caring for Loved Ones at Home: An Illustrated Guide to Short and Long-Term Care.

In return for your reading and printing off this book, we ask only that you email us. This lets us know how many people are accessing this FREE information. That’s it! Just email us:

If you find the iBook helpful, please let other people know they can access it for free too!

Copyright © 1996, 1999, 2002, 2006 Harry van Bommel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical copying, recording or otherwise, except with the prior written permission of the author or under licence from the Canadian Copyright Agency.