To encourage people to carefully consider and protect their families, assets and affairs, the Ontario Bar Association has made April its “Make a Power of Attorney Month.”

A power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal document that gives someone else the right to act on a person’s behalf. These documents can be used to oversee personal care or to handle assets and property, and can be customized to suit the precise requirements of each person. 

The value and usefulness of a POA is most obvious for people who fall into any of these categories:

  • are frequent travellers or are seldom home;
  • have complex affairs or assets;
  • are financially responsible for their family unit and home; or
  • are elderly or have frail health or a greater risk of suffering from dementia.

While many condo unit owners might consider their affairs to be too simple to bother preparing a power of attorney, there are many reasons why having one can prove invaluable, such as where the owner wishes to allow someone to be able to do any of the following things on their behalf:

  • have access to the unit or common elements;
  • arrange to pay common expenses or property taxes for the unit;
  • refinance the unit with a lender or bank or sell it;
  • attend unit owner meetings and vote on important matters;
  • give a proxy to another person to attend owner meetings;
  • deal with tenants occupying the unit;
  • file notices with the condo corporation; and
  • request work, records or assistance from the condo corporation.

Though it is important for people to prepare a POA, it is equally important not to lock it in a safe or lose it. Individuals who hold power of attorney (“the attorney”) for someone else must have access to the POA document and present it (either an original or, better yet, a notarial copy) when acting in that capacity.  I often see unit owners’ family members try to register at condo AGMs who declare themselves as the unit owner’s attorney but do not present the POA document and have not already submitted a copy for the condo’s file.  Without proof of their authority or a valid proxy from the unit owner, persons named as a power of attorney cannot be considered as the owners’ attorney or treated as the unit owner or issued ballots or counted towards quorum at meetings.

Remember that the attorney’s authority comes from the POA document, so it must be presented for inspection on request and should be filed with the condo corporation if the attorney is expected to have significant, frequent or ongoing interaction with the corporation on behalf of the unit owner.

Condo managers and directors who are approached by a person claiming to hold a power of attorney for a unit owner should ask to see the document and make a copy for their file.  The scope of the attorney’s authority and any conditions or restrictions should be readily apparent from the POA document, but consult the condo’s lawyers if you are unsure.

Though cynics might consider the OBA’s “Make a POA” campaign a self-serving move to drum up business for lawyers, it’s a fact that the legal work needed where no power of attorney was made is invariably more complex and expensive. Making a power of attorney is your best bet to avoid significant confusion, delay, costs and inconvenience in case you are absent or otherwise unable to take care of yourself or manage your affairs.

Visit the OBA’s website for more information on Make a POA Month and talk to your friendly neighbourhood lawyer today to protect your family and assets.