Canadian seniors may face financial abuse and financial fraud where they least suspect it — at the hands of trusted family members or friends. One of the best ways to avoid becoming a victim is to prepare early and protect yourself by having an estate plan.

By writing a will as part of your overall estate plan, you decide how and to whom you will leave your money and property when you pass away. You may also want to consider what will be done if you become mentally or physically incapacitated. Who will manage your finances and who will take care of your dependents?

“One of the best ways to avoid becoming a victim is to prepare early and protect yourself by having an estate plan.”

In 2014, I was appointed Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader to help promote the knowledge, skills and confidence Canadians need to make informed financial decisions. Part of my job is to help Canadians plan for retirement, including providing them with resources for income and estate planning.

Every March, Fraud Prevention Month provides a reminder that we all need to protect our assets from a variety of threats. Estate planning is one such important step. You may wish to seek professional advice, possibly from a lawyer or financial planner, in developing your estate plan which will include your will and — very importantly — a Power of Attorney.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney (PoA) is a legal document, signed by you, giving one or more persons the authority to manage your money and/or property for you if you cannot do so yourself.  In most of Canada, the person you appoint is called an “attorney.” That person does not need to be a lawyer.

Your PoA may give that person access to funds in your bank account and the authority to sell any property in your home. It is important to choose a trustworthy person to play this role on your behalf.

The incidence of senior financial abuse is a growing concern and many financial institutions are training their staff to watch out for misuse of PoAs. You can protect yourself and your estate by carefully considering how to structure your Power of Attorney. Seek the proper professional assistance to fully understand what the person you appoint will be able to do.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) monitors bank compliance with the Voluntary Commitment on Powers of Attorney and Joint Deposit Accounts. If you feel that a federally regulated financial institution is not respecting this public commitment, contact FCAC.

If at any time you suspect that you or someone you know may be a victim of financial abuse or fraud, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Additionally, each province and territory has its own laws and regulators overseeing PoAs. Look for unbiased resources that can help you plan your finances.