Helping a loved one with a loss of independence

16 November 2022 by National Bank
How to support loved ones with loss of autonomy?

A person may experience a loss of independence as they get older or following an accident or illness. If one of your loved ones finds themselves in this situation, you’ll want to take care of them. You’ll need to take care of yourself too. We’ve put together some advice on the help that’s available during this challenging time.

What loss of independence means

The definition of loss of independence is broad. A person may gradually (or not so gradually) lose their ability to:

  • Carry out certain tasks
  • Express their wishes
  • Take care of themselves/their property

This situation may be temporary, permanent, or even cyclical. They will need someone to help them with certain tasks, and the length of time they will require assistance will vary from person to person.

What can cause a loss of independence? 

Many things can cause a loss of independence leading to incapacity, and it can happen at any age.

If one of your parents had a traffic accident, for example, and were no longer able to walk, they would be physically incapacitated. However, if they were to become incapacitated due to mental health issues or age-related health problems, their needs would be quite different.

How to determine whether a person is experiencing a loss of independence

Determining whether a person is experiencing a loss of independence is a complex matter. When it’s someone you love, it can also be difficult to accept on an emotional level. Making the determination often requires specialist knowledge (e.g., medical or psychological expertise) that family members may not have.

The situation can also be more complicated if the person isn’t aware of their loss of independence, as is often the case with dementia, a coma, or some mental health issues.

You would then have to contact medical professionals and legal authorities in the person's province of residence. Every province has its own system of “public curators” or “public trustees”.

Start by contacting them to find out what steps you need to take, since the rules vary from place to place.

Measures to help people experiencing a loss of independence

If your loved one is able to make decisions for themselves, they can opt for a power of attorney. This is permission given to another person to represent them and make decisions on their behalf.

The person who gives a power of attorney can put limits on it. It can be general or limited to certain aspects of their life.

General powers of attorney

A general power of attorney gives someone else the ability to manage the grantor’s property on their behalf. This option is available across Canada. It ceases to be valid if the grantor is declared incapacitated.

In Quebec, there is also the option to apply for an assistance measure. Unlike a power of attorney, which allows a person to act on behalf of someone else, an assistance measure allows an assistant to act as an intermediary for an assisted person in certain situations. The assistant cannot sign contracts, carry out bank transactions or make decisions on the assisted person’s behalf.

Here’s how the assistance measure works:

  • The person who wishes to be assisted submits an application to the Public Curator of Quebec
  • The assistant is appointed for a period of 3 years
  • The assisted person can put an end to the assistance measure at any time

Enduring powers of attorney (Canada, excluding Quebec)

An enduring, or continuing, power of attorney can cover both financial and healthcare decisions. It is available across Canada, with the exception of Quebec. What’s more, in certain cases, the document can evolve and adapt to changes in the grantor’s condition.

→ For information about the situation in Quebec, please read our article about protection mandates.

In all cases, getting assistance from a legal professional is strongly recommended.

How to prepare for a loss of independence

A person can experience a loss of independence at any age, even if they are in good health. Though you shouldn’t worry excessively about the future, you should be prepared for it. Preparation will give you peace of mind and make things easier for your loved ones.

It’s a bit like choosing a retirement home. It’s always best to think about it when you’re in good health and able to make an informed decision.

Some tips on preparing for a loss of independence

Consider drawing up a document that sets out your wishes, including any medical instructions.

Here are some points to think about:

  • Appoint a person you trust to manage your property and see to your health needs
  • Clearly state your wishes in the event that something happens to you
  • Choose someone who is up to the task and available

For example, if you’re a business owner, you’ll most likely want to appoint someone who understands how businesses work.

  • Give your advisor or financial planner authorization to communicate with a third party

This way, if they notice any unusual banking transactions, they can inform someone close to you.

  • Don’t use a joint account to manage the other accountholder’s affairs if they become incapacitated

This bank account can be seized if the co-holder goes bankrupt. Additionally, in some provinces, these accounts may not be considered part of the estate if one of the accountholders dies.

Are there any subsidies for caregivers of people experiencing a loss of independence?

Yes. If you’re a caregiver for a person experiencing a loss of independence, you may be entitled to certain subsidies.

The person being cared for may also decide to pay their caregiver.

There are also tax credits and benefits for caregivers. These include Employment Insurance (EI) caregiving benefits. To apply, you need to complete the online form.

What is a caregiver?

Caregivers provide physical, social and psychological assistance to another person, including people who are experiencing a loss of independence. They are often a child, friend, relative or partner of the person being cared for. Caregivers are sometimes also called family caregivers, natural caregivers or informal caregivers.

Whether you’re assisting a loved one with decreasing independence or experiencing a loss of independence yourself, remember that tools and help are available. Being as prepared as you can be will help you focus on what really matters.

Would you like to discuss this with us? Contact your National Bank advisor or your wealth advisor at Financial National Bank for more info. Don't have an advisor? Schedule an appointment in just a few minutes.

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