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It’s becoming increasingly common for Canadians to hold assets overseas. Often, they are dual citizens who moved to Canada and still hold family assets in another country, snowbirds who own a vacation house abroad, or Canadian international students who have bank accounts in their country of study. One challenge many such Canadians run into is difficulty managing their assets when they are outside of the country where those assets are located. Further, Canadians abroad may have difficulty accessing and managing their accounts within Canada. For example, the CRA My Account for individuals is difficult to access online while abroad. In order to manage such assets and accounts, Canadians can appoint legal representatives or an overseas power of attorney.
First, what is a power of attorney (POA)? Powers of attorney are commonly used in estate planning in British Columbia and across Canada. A power of attorney is essentially a representative who is empowered to make legal decisions on behalf of an individual. A POA has privileges to sign documents on behalf of the individual as well. In previous articles we’ve discussed the importance of having an enduring power-of-attorney in cases where will writers are expecting to lose testamentary capacity due to degenerative disease like dementia. The role of a power of attorney in the context of estate planning varies from their role in managing a person’s assets that are located abroad. For more on POAs and estate planning, read our article on the role of POAs in the context of estate planning.
An overseas power of attorney differs from a POA appointed for estate planning purposes in that they often live in a different jurisdiction than the individual appointing them. Usually, an individual would appoint an overseas POA that lives in the same jurisdiction as the assets they will be responsible for managing. This is particularly beneficial for managing assets in jurisdictions where there is a significant time difference, a language barrier, or rules prohibiting the owner from accessing their accounts from Canada.
Appointing an overseas POA is also beneficial for those who don’t have assets, but have interests abroad. For instance, individuals involved in overseas or cross-border litigation should have legal representatives in the relevant jurisdictions, and having an overseas POA can significantly ease pressure on everyone involved as they are able to sign documents and receive communications on behalf of the represented individual. Individuals receiving inheritance from family abroad should consider appointing an overseas POA for similar reasons. Having a representative ready and able to assume responsibility for signing documents, attending hearings and accessing legal support can reduce confusion and barriers to legal resolution, ultimately saving time and money.
Appointing a power of attorney is a relatively simple process which can be done quickly. However individuals must be careful and considerate in drafting a POA to be used by an overseas representative because they are handing over legal authority to an individual who will operate in a different jurisdiction. It is important that the person appointed is someone you trust, or is a professional POA with experience and a strong reputation. There are many online services and even notaries who offer assistance in creating a power of attorney document, however the cross-border nature of assets or interests is a complicating factor that should not be ignored. The best and most careful way to give another individual power of attorney to manage your legal affairs is to meet with an experienced lawyer.
If you’re considering drafting a power of attorney in Canada or abroad, contact an experienced estate lawyer today. We’ll make sure your best interests are represented no matter the circumstances.