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Legal Issues for Seniors to Consider

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The personal legal factors that we need to manage become ever more important as we age.

The process of organizing how your things are left behind, the manner in which decisions are made on your behalf when you become unable to make them yourself, and the amount and form of care you receive all require legalities to clarify and sort out. As difficult as it may be for some, a critical reality of ageing is the need to resolve issues such as living wills, powers of attorney, and instructions for life sustaining treatments.

The following is a brief overview of some of the legal issues that seniors should be cognizant of. To learn more about the laws specific to your province regarding some of these issues, please consult your lawyer.

Advanced Health Care Directives (Living Wills)

The Advance Directive is an important document created to direct the forms of medical intervention and other forms of care that are to be applied on behalf of an individual in the event that they become incapable of making these decisions on their own. Advance Directives come in two forms: Living Will and Power of Attorney.

A Living Will provides explicit instructions regarding the treatments and efforts to be applied should an individual become incapacitated. A Power of Attorney, on the other hand, as it relates to health care, identifies a person who will assume the role of decision maker and then becomes responsible for speaking on behalf of the ill or aged person. Both forms of Advance Directives, while distinct, are essential, and should be considered and applied. In order to make sure that the instructions they dictate are followed exactly as they desire, seniors should also make copies of these documents available to their family members, doctors, and other trusted individuals.

Wills and Trusts

Ageing citizens are frequent users of Wills – documents designed to assign who, upon their passing, will receive an individual’s personal possessions. These documents serve many useful purposes including minimizing conflict between family members and preventing assets from being distributed according to applicable law, all while saving time and money! Both spouses should possess individual Wills and should keep them updated to make sure that they reflect changes that may have occurred to the estate. Trusts are also a commonly used tool by helping to care for any dependent family members and assist in any estate or tax planning after the trust holder passes away. Other types of Trusts also exist such as Living Trusts. The latter can avoid situations in which a court makes decisions regarding settlement and tax value of an estate (this is referred to as probate).

Power of Attorney (POA)

A POA is a legal document that bestows a reliable individual with the right to act on one’s behalf. The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee has a POA Kit to help you through the process of assigning a person of your choosing to make pronouncements on your behalf if you become unable to do so for yourself. Legal authority is obligatory for the courts to recognize financial decisions, for example, and can be assigned by identifying an individual in a continuing POA for property. Choosing someone to act as POA for personal care confers that individual with the authority to make living arrangements and dietary choice decisions. In circumstances where no POA exists prior to an individual becoming debilitated, the courts can assign a power after the fact.

Gathering Vital Information

To ensure that they are readily available when required, seniors should make sure that these, and other, key legal documents remain both safe and accessible. This will help to make sure that the information and terms dictated within these documents are readily available by loved-ones in the event of a crisis.

It is suggested that the following documents be organized and accessible:
  • Bank statements and safe deposit box locations
  • Birth certificate
  • Credit card information
  • Funeral prearrangements
  • Investment records
  • Life insurance information, including policy number
  • Loan papers
  • Mortgage papers
  • Most recent income tax return
  • Names and addresses of family physician and medical specialists, as well as information regarding any hospital admissions, the dates of office visits, and other medical history
  • Negotiable securities
  • Social Insurance Number
  • Sources of income and assets
  • Special arrangements made for health care, including advance directives
  • Trust documents
  • Will
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