Column: A failure in communications around a simple piece of info

Column: A failure in communications around a simple piece of info

Professionals are MIA regarding POA regulation for out-of-province agreements

This is about a story you didn’t read. It involves a local woman who has power of attorney (POA) for her ailing sister who lives in another province. The local woman has been able to oversee the sale of her sister’s house, set up automatic transactions and even write cheques on the account – which clear through her sister’s branch. When she tried to go into the local branch in early 2019 though, she was stonewalled.

After a lot of work, we ultimately agreed to shelve the story (and not identify her or the bank) because the bank recently agreed to honour the POA. The weird thing is the woman is right but so is the bank.

The answer is very simple, but almost no one knows this, except the province’s Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, who turns out to be the hero of this story.

When I started calling and emailing in the fall, it was with the intent of getting an outside opinion about issues concerning POAs from other provinces. I learned quickly that POAs are governed by provincial law. Eventually, I learned B.C.’s laws are silent on this matter.

However, before Christmas, I was very close to filing a story about the bank’s stonewalling when I had to double-check something with the Seniors’ Advocate office. I was told I should actually speak with Mackenzie if I needed quotes. I got more than quotes – I got the answer.

Turns out that while the B.C. law is silent, there is also an administrative regulation where the details are spelled out – specifically, that a solicitor from the other province submit a certificate attesting that the POA would meet B.C. standards. It can be the same lawyer who drew up the agreement, but it doesn’t have to be.

“The short answer is you’ve got to jump through one more hoop,” Mackenzie told me.

So that’s it. A simple piece of paperwork. However, the Comox Valley woman, for the better part of a year, could get no answers. I tried even more people and made little headway. Some non-profit advocate groups provided some direction, but they were volunteers and only knew so much.

On the other hand, I contacted the bank (the last I heard from them was in early December), a law school where I thought I might find an expert, other bigger advocacy organizations, and finally the province’s Attorney-General’s office – for clarification on the legal situation. In the latter case, we were told this amounted to giving legal advice, and we probably should talk to a lawyer.

I should point out I did try both the local and the out-of-province lawyers the woman had contacted, but they were not able to answer questions due to lawyer-client confidentiality, so they get a pass.

A lot of others don’t though. This is pamphlet-level information that should be in every Service BC office, so the province needs to get moving, and financial institutions might want to let their staff know too.

Ultimately, the biggest failure comes down to the communications “professionals” who didn’t know basic information, or worse, didn’t bother to find out, but instead brushed this off with a shrug. Others didn’t even respond to calls or emails. Maybe they were too busy engaging on social media to take care of actual work. In any case, that something so simple could be so hard to find out is beyond ridiculous.

I’m glad the situation worked out for the local woman, which is why we shelved this as a story, but for much of 2019, a lot of apparent professionals wasted a lot of her time – and a lot of my time too.

Mike Chouinard is a reporter for the Comox Valley Record