New Brunswick

Province's power of attorney regulations laws lag behind rest of Canada, group says

A new group is calling for more specific power of attorney legislation in New Brunswick, something other provinces already have, says Bonnie Hayward, who found out the hard way.

Woman whose husband suffered disabling aneurysm was forced to educate herself on power of attorney

A power of attorney is a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs. (University of Calgary)

A new group is calling for more specific power of attorney legislation in New Brunswick, something other provinces already have, says Bonnie Hayward, who found out the hard way.

The Moncton woman says an aneurysm left her husband incapacitated in 1999.

"When Richard took sick, I wanted to access his bank account and our safety deposit box," Hayward told Information Morning Moncton.

"The bank asked me if I had power of attorney, and I wasn't really aware of all the aspects of a power of attorney."

Power of attorney is a written authorization to represent or act on another's behalf in private affairs, including business and health care decisions, or some other legal matter.

Without it, the assets of a sick loved one cannot be accessed and decisions relating to health care cannot be made on their behalf.

Marc André Chiasson, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, said in an email that New Brunswick does have power of attorney legislation.

Points to 2 different acts

"The authority to create a power of attorney is found in both the Infirm Persons Act and the Property Act," he said.

But the Power of Attorney Action Group said the problem is a lack of legislation with clear, precise guidelines, which the group says would eliminate much of the grief families experience.

The Haywards each had a will tucked away, but they were unaware of the significance of setting up a power of attorney at the same time.

Bonnie Hayward was forced to meet with a lawyer and then two neurosurgeons,who identified and confirmed her husband could no longer handle his own affairs.

The legislation would allow for it to be clear ... what the responsibility of a power of attorney would be.- Kym Elder, Salvation Army  Lakeview  Manor

Two months after Richard Hayward got sick, his wife was appointed power of committee. It doesn't require pre-authorization from the sick individual but involves a lengthier process of approval through the courts.

Kym Elder, the executive director of the Salvation Army Lakeview Manor in Riverview, told CBC News that stories like the Haywards' are common, especially in New Brunswick.

"In other areas of Canada there is legislation, and what it offers is clear guidelines as far as how one would have someone appointed to manage their finances, their property, their health care decisions," Elder said.

While there are many people in New Brunswick who have obtained power of attorney documents, lack of clarity means things can be misunderstood, she said.

For people like the Haywards, who didn't have one at all, there is hardship on many levels.

Getting legislation

Elder said when the power of attorney action group gathered, it began looking at the issue from the perspective of nursing homes, community members, and physicians who want the best for their patients during difficult times.

"By having a good power of attorney, we're going to reduce hardship, conflict confusion," she said.

"The legislation would allow for it to be clear when the power of attorney starts, when it ends, what its powers are, what the responsibility of a power of attorney would be. Right now, we have a lack of clarity in that area."

If possible, having conversations about one's power of attorney in advance, Elder said, would alleviate a lot of grief later on.

That grief is something Hayward said she wants to keep others from going through like she did.

"You have all this emotional trauma that you're going through because of your loved one, and you're also trying to continue thinking about the house, the car, the groceries, whatever else needs to be done, and taking care of financial things that you obviously can't get a hold of."

Elder said the Power of Attorney Action Group has started using social media to spread the word about how important this type of legislation is. In the fall, physicians and lawyers will begin to work more closely to move things forward.

The group will also look to other provinces, such as Nova Scotia and British Columbia, to see what works best for Canadians.

"We are wanting to bring this to light. … We have an opportunity to have one of the best pieces of legislation."

With files from Information Morning Moncton