Power of Attorney Disputes on the Rise?
Our population is aging but living longer. This has resulted in an increase in the prevalence of dementia and other aging-related conditions associated with cognitive decline, and a corresponding increase in the use and activation of powers of attorney.
As estate litigators, our firm is beginning to see a rise in power of attorney disputes between siblings and other family members. These types of disputes are often emotionally fuelled by longstanding sibling rivalry or distrust among family members, and can result protracted litigation and expensive legal bills.
Often a sibling or other family member will have concerns that the appointed attorney is acting improperly or is failing to fulfill his or her duties. In these circumstances, the sibling or family member may have concerns with respect to a lack of transparency or feel that they are being left out of the decision-making process.
It is useful for these individuals to know that the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”) imposes certain obligations upon an attorney, which may assist in addressing these concerns.
The SDA states that an attorney has a duty to consult with family members and keep them informed as to the incapable person’s health and wellbeing (ss. 32(5)) and that an attorney has a duty to foster personal contact between the incapable and his or her supportive family members (ss. 32(4)).
The SDA also states that an attorney has a duty to keep proper records and to provide updates regarding the incapable person’s financial circumstances (ss. 32(6)).
The SDA also states that an appointed attorney must also obtain and review a copy of the incapable person’s Will (s. 33.1). If the Will provides that a specific item of property is to be given to a particular beneficiary, the attorney must retain that property for that beneficiary unless it is essential to sell the item in order to satisfy the incapable person’s legal responsibilities or otherwise provide for the incapable person (ss. 35.1(1)).
These duties are ongoing and an attorney can generally be held personally liable for any damages that results from a breach of his or her duties.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee has published a brochure that outlines the duties and powers of an appointed attorney for property in greater detail, which can be viewed here.
Communication is often the key to resolving these types of disputes between family members. However, where there is a breakdown in communication, the assistance of a litigator or mediator who specializes in this practice area is often helpful.
Thank you for reading.