The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our day-to-day lives. From living in various forms of lockdown, to concerns about our health, our finances and even our future, life has changed. For many of us, the coronavirus will lead us to re-evaluate our retirement and end-of-life plans, by either making changes to them or putting entirely new plans in place. And while that may be a challenging and emotionally draining proposition at the best of times, it may be especially true for seniors and those who are caring for aging parents.
“If no legal documents are in place, the level of frustration can increase and costs may rise, leading to the situation being way more stressful than it has to be,” says Graham Tonge, an Executive Trust Officer for TD Wealth. He outlines several steps that may be worth considering during these unprecedented times.
1. Review plans and documents
As we cope with the new COVID-19 reality, Tonge says now can be a good time to take stock and review plans and documents regarding your parents. These documents may include powers of attorney, wills and estate planning, taxes and investments. It can be important, says Tonge, to consider having a legally designated person who can step in and take the lead when a parent requires support. “If they don’t, now may be the time to have those discussions.
2. Think about powers of attorney
Although each province has its own laws and terms for these legal powers, a power of attorney (POA) document can give someone the right to make decisions on another person’s behalf. But there are different types of POAs, and Tonge says it’s important to understand what kind of care may be needed.
For example, a POA for Property gives the person named — perhaps a son or daughter, close friend or trust company — the ability to make decisions about a parent’s financial affairs. That could include managing investments, paying bills, estate planning, or even selling a property.
A POA for Personal Care gives that person the ability to make decisions involving healthcare, housing arrangements, personal care and end-of-life instructions, if the parent becomes mentally incapacitated. Both documents can be helpful, but you’ll need the right one in place, depending on a person’s needs. Ideally these documents can be completed while a parent is healthy so that their instructions are clear should they become incapacitated.
3. When to consider a Trust Officer
Not everyone is likely to have a spouse, children or even a friend in a position to look after their affairs when it’s required. Sometimes, the person that has been designated may also need support. In such situations, Tonge says you may consider turning to a trust company. A trust company is used as a financial agent on behalf of an individual and would have powers, for instance, to access accounts and make financial decisions. A private trust officer can provide financial care and may be appointed to help a senior sort out their finances and work on their behalf to manage financial affairs. And one doesn’t have to be incapacitated to use a trust officer. Tonge says some snowbirds use a representative to manage their finances, including to help ensure bills and taxes are paid on time.
4. Consider how a lockdown could impact scenarios
“If the person is capable, a lawyer may be approached to draft the POA documents,” says Tonge. But every situation is different, he says, and isolation due to the coronavirus could prevent a lawyer from accessing a home or care facility. In these cases, lawyers are having to come up with creative ways to help ensure legal needs can still be fulfilled.
“So, they may resort to taking instructions over the phone and commissioning the documents over a webcam,” Tonge says.
If the person is not mentally capable and there is not a POA in place, an application to the courts may be required to have a representative — perhaps a family member or a trust officer — appointed on their behalf. This is known as a “guardian of property,” or “guardian for personal care.” It’s similar to a POA, but the term guardian means they are court-appointed instead of being appointed by the person ahead of time. Making an application to the courts can be an expensive, lengthy and frustrating undertaking — and may be avoided by having a POA in place ahead of time.
“A trust officer can draft a management plan that is approved and revisited often,” says Tonge, adding that the plan would be designed to manage all aspects of the person’s finances.
Planning ahead, having documents completed, as well as having conversations with family and trusted advisors ahead of time can help to put a comprehensive plan in place, says Tonge. “So, when something happens everyone plays their part and knows their part.”