Prudent Basic Legal Emergency Planning in Pandemic Times

March 19, 2020

By: Catherine Gerrits

Albertans have quickly responded to the recommendations of the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services over the past days to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in order to protect our community and our most vulnerable citizens. Many feel anxious regarding business and school closures, self-quarantines and social distancing measures. An important message to help all in these pandemic times is to take prudent steps to be prepared for further changes as they present.

As part of such prudent steps, it is time to take stock of your “emergency plan”. First in mind of many Albertans is in respect of basic needs: food stores and prescription medication. However, as part of that emergency plan, Albertans are strongly encouraged to consider their basic “legal emergency plan” as well.

What is a basic “legal emergency plan”? In Alberta, the three legal documents that can assist you in any emergency are a Power of Attorney, Personal Directive and Will. Generally, these are the most required and cost-effective documents for an adult to have as part of their legal emergency plan. Simply put, the three documents work as follows.

A Power of Attorney deals with your property and financial matters. It allows you to designate the persons who you want to have access and control over your property if you are incapable (for e.g., if you are in a coma). This document is especially necessary if you are the owner of a business, as a Power of Attorney can designate a person to make decisions for your business (e.g. run the business), and designate a different person to make your personal financial decisions (e.g. pay house bills, etc.)

A Personal Directive deals with your non-financial matters – your personal matters. It allows you to designate the persons who you want to make personal, medical and care decisions for you if you are incapable. A Personal Directive can specify who you designate to care for your minor children as well, and this is especially needed if the persons you want to make your medical or care decisions are not the persons who you want to care for your minor children (e.g. guardians). You can separate these roles in a Personal Directive. This document is highly recommended, if not essential, for parents of young children, as it designates their guardians in the case of an emergency. Finally, this document can specify what end-of-life care or medical treatment measures you wish (or do not wish) to take place (for e.g., prolong life at all costs regardless of hope of recovery, or withdraw artificial life prolonging measures.

A Will is generally the most known of the three documents. It allows you to designate the persons who you want to be in control of your assets (estate) when you die, and also the persons or organizations that you designate to receive your estate on death.

Without any of the above three documents, your basic legal emergency plan is deficient, and can result in large legal costs during highly emotional times.

Without a Power of Attorney or Personal Directive, your family may need to seek a temporary or permanent Guardian or Trusteeship Order, in order to be able to access and deal with your assets (e.g. pay bills, access bank accounts, continue business operations) and be authorized to make medical or care decisions for you. As the Alberta Courts have reduced non-essential services in light of COVID-19 measures, an emergency application for a Court Order for Guardianship or Trusteeship may be more costly and therefore more stressful on a family. Without a Will, certain of your more valuable personal assets, such as any real property (e.g., land, house, condo) or bank accounts (including non-registered investment accounts) in your name solely are generally “frozen” and cannot be dealt with by anyone until a Grant of Administration is obtained from the Alberta Courts. This is a very time consuming process, that requires someone to step forward to manage your estate, and this can be contested by other family members or interested parties.

The purpose of this article is not to cause panic, but to provide helpful information in order to help you consider your basic legal emergency plan, and what steps you may need to take to address any deficiencies in your plan.

All our Wills and Estates lawyers are here to help, and can answer any questions you may have on these documents, to assist with any changes that may be required, or to set up new documents for those without the above.

We encourage you to be prudent, and we are here to help you feel confident in your legal planning. The best part of our practice is knowing that clients are confident in the face of all emergencies: they know what their legal documents say and have communicated their legal plan to family and friends they have chosen in those documents to help.

For more information or to answer your questions, please reach out to any of our Wills and Estates Lawyers:

Catherine Gerrits, Fulvio Durante, Mark Sawyer, Mike Anderson

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