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What is the difference between wills and powers of attorney?

There are many legal complexities to estate planning and preparing a will. However, before digging into details and exceptions under British Columbia law, it is a good idea for individuals to understand the two central documents needed for a plan. Wills and powers of attorney are the two cornerstones of estate planning. To be valid, both documents should be drafted by a competent adult with the support of an attorney.

Wills are documents in which people record who should receive their assets and liabilities after they pass away. The people or organizations who receive assets are called beneficiaries. The person responsible for administering the will is an executor. Approximately 50 percent of adults in Canada die without a will each year, a reality that leaves many families in a bind as they seek to manage their loved ones' affairs. 

A power of attorney is a secondary legal document. It names another person to act on one's behalf if he or she becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: those who can make financial decisions and those who can make personal care decisions. In British Columbia, representation agreements are involved in naming personal care powers of attorney.

Choosing executors and powers of attorney is a serious decision. These individuals will be entrusted with tasks that will affect a person's family even after their benefactors are incapacitated or have passed away. It is a good idea to review both wills and powers of attorney on a regular basis; for example, in the case of a divorce, one may wish to remove a former spouse as executor or power of attorney. Working with a British Columbia lawyer to clarify these plans and ensure they are legally documented is a good idea.

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