Essential information you should know when preparing for your future.
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Everyday Legal Problems
Our Work It Out pages offer in-depth, step-by-step guidance for dealing with a legal problem from start to finish.
Easy-to-read Need to Know pages offer tips and highlights.
Learn your options for planning for your future financial, legal, health care, and personal care needs.
“Last year, I found my wife Paige lying on the kitchen floor. She’d had a stroke. It was so sudden. Paige was smart with our money. A lot of it was tied up in investments — in her name. I was shocked when the bank said I didn’t have authority to access her money. I’m her wife — isn’t that enough? After all, I need the money to care for her. I wish we’d thought to plan ahead.”
– Ramona, Oliver
No one wants to think about illness and death. But the truth is, none of us know when illness or accident or cognitive impairment will strike. One day, you may be in a position where you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. In that case, someone will need to help you make decisions, or make decisions for you. Big ones — like where you’ll live. Or small ones — like making sure the heat stays on. It’s wise to consider in advance who you’d like to make those kinds of decisions for you.
Getting your future care settled will set you up to live well — from the day you really need help until the end. Having a plan in place gives those close to you peace of mind. Planning is about living — and dying — on your own terms.
Plan to have a say in your future
In British Columbia, a patchwork of laws spell out who can make financial, legal, health care, and personal care decisions for you. Imagine a situation where you’ve become incapable of making these types of decisions independently. In these circumstances, the various planning laws fall into two groups:
1. The default choice. What the law says will happen if you haven’t planned.
2. The plan you choose for yourself. A number of legal options let you override that default choice and have a say in the decision-making. You can plan ahead so that you have a say in who can make decisions for you if you ever can’t make them yourself.
Learn six important reasons why you need to plan for your future.
1. Planning is for everyone
“When we first had ‘the talk’ about end-of-life care, Mom wasn’t wild about singling out specific family members to take the lead. Our family is used to making important decisions as a group. But Mom’s lawyer reminded her of an important point. If something happened to her, only one person would, by default, be asked to make medical decisions for her anyway. Mom’s lawyer tailored the agreement to reflect Mom’s preferences. In her representation agreement, Mom appointed four family members to make decisions by majority rules. When she got really sick, everyone knew what to do.”
– Akal, Chilliwack
The way people handle illness, make decisions, or even who they consider to be "family" may differ depending on their culture, religion and other aspects of their identity. For example, in British Columbia, the law emphasizes the right of the individual to make decisions about their own care. This may not be how things are done in your family.
But the reality is these laws apply to you. So it’s important to learn about them, whatever your background. Learning about your legal options can empower you to achieve what you want.
Legal documents can be tailored to fit your preferences and circumstances. You might just want one person to make all of your future decisions, if ever needed. Or you can choose two (or more) people. And you get to decide whether they must make decisions together, and how. For an example of how this can play out, see our page on enhanced representation agreements.
2. Planning puts you in a position to make informed choices
When people think hard about their goals and values, they tend to make better choices.
Planning involves learning about your legal options and figuring out how they apply to your life. You can take this opportunity to:
- take a closer look at your financial situation,
- review your medical history, and understand your health care options,
- explore your values, wishes and beliefs, and
- think about what you want your future to look like.
You and your chosen decision-maker will benefit from this process. You’ll both make more informed decisions in moments of crisis. And these decisions are more likely to line up with your values and wishes.
3. Putting plans in place can ease the burden on those close to you, financially and emotionally
“While we were vacationing in Hawaii, my partner Abby started complaining about sore joints. We thought it must have been from all the hiking. But it didn’t go away. Turns out she had bone cancer. I can’t believe how fast it happened. One day she was here, the next she was not. After she died, I felt so guilty. Should I have dragged her to all of those doctors appointments? Would she have preferred to spend her last weeks at home with me and the kids? It keeps me up at night.”
– Elliott, Burnaby
Planning in advance also helps to reduce the burden of everyday caregiving. For example, your attorney (under a power of attorney) can step in seamlessly to deal with your finances, as needed. Your day-to-day bills, rent or mortgage payments, and medical expenses can be covered without delay.
Research shows that planning for your health care results in better outcomes for family members and caregivers. Planning reduces the burden of decision-making, relieves anxiety and depressive symptoms, and makes people more satisfied with the care provided.
4. Planning gives you control over what happens to your money
Planning doesn’t just give you control over what happens to your body. It also helps you control what happens to your money and assets.
This is particularly important if you want to protect your assets because:
- you have dependents who need support, but the assets to support them are under your name alone,
- your loved ones need access to your money to provide you with good care, or
- you’re the joint owner of a certain asset (such as a house), and a sale or refinancing isn’t possible without your signature.
5. If you don’t make plans, the court may become involved
No one has the automatic authority to make legal, financial, or even personal care decisions for you if you become incapable. As a last resort, a family member or friend may need to apply to court to get the authority to make decisions for you. To do this, they’ll need to ask the court to appoint them as your committee. A committee has the same rights and powers over your affairs as you would if you were capable.
There are two types of committees:
- A committee of person becomes responsible for making decisions about an adult’s health and personal matters.
- A committee of estate becomes responsible for making decisions about an adult’s financial and legal affairs.
“Our daughter Helene was in a boating accident… she hasn’t been the same since. Her rehab expenses are skyrocketing. We want to sell her investment property to pay for her care expenses. We’ve been told that because she didn’t plan in advance, our only option is for one of us to apply to court to become her committee of estate. I can’t believe we have to jump through all of these legal hoops just to help our child.”
– Alphonse, Squamish
Going to court is rarely a desirable Plan A. It’s expensive and time-consuming and can cause unnecessary stress for family and others close to you. It can take months or even years for applications to be heard in court. This can delay access to money needed for your care and degrade your quality of life.
Usually, a family member or friend applies to become committee. But there’s no guarantee the court will appoint them. Before appointing a committee, the court must declare you incapable. This declaration strips you of your decision-making rights over your body and property.
The Public Guardian and Trustee can be appointed as committee
This may happen, for example, when there’s family conflict or no one steps forward to apply. The Public Guardian and Trustee is a public body that protects the interests of British Columbians who lack legal capacity to protect their own interests.
If it appears that an adult needs help, a provincial health authority may conduct a medical and functional assessment. If the adult is found to be incapable, the health authority will issue a certificate of incapability. The Public Guardian and Trustee can automatically be appointed after this certificate is issued.
6. If you don’t plan and you need medical treatment, someone else will be asked to give consent for you
If you’re incapable of consenting to a health care treatment, someone else needs to make the decision for you. There’s a hierarchy of authority that a health care provider must follow if a decision needs to be made and you’re not able to make it.
At the bottom of the hierarchy is a temporary substitute decision-maker.
This person will be temporarily appointed to make a specific health care decision for you. They’ll only be called on if you don’t have another authority in place that addresses the specific health care need. Unlike other authorities which you can choose in advance, a temporary substitute decision-maker is not someone chosen by you — it may be someone you never would have wanted to make a decision about your health for you.
To choose a temporary substitute decision-maker, your health care provider must choose someone from a ranked list, as set out under the law. See our page on temporary substitute decision-makers to learn more about who might be chosen and what they’ll be asked to do.
Planning begins with imagining — truly imagining — yourself reduced to incapacity. Who do you ideally see in this picture, making important decisions for you? How involved do you want them to be? Once you’re clear on your wishes, it’s time to make a more concrete plan.
Explain to your family and friends exactly what you’d like to see unfold. A good place to start is to think about how and by whom, you would want decisions to be made if you ever become unable to make decisions for yourself. Then learn about the planning options that are available in British Columbia and seek advice about how they might be used to achieve what you want.
Learn more about your options for planning for your future financial and legal affairs, as well as your health care and personal care planning options.
There are tools you can put in place now in case you cannot manage your financial and legal affairs in future.
Learn about the different types of powers of attorney, and how they can be used.
A power of attorney is a legal document. With it, you can give someone you trust the power to look after your financial and legal affairs. This might include paying bills, depositing or withdrawing money from your bank account, investing your money, or selling your home. Learn about the different types of powers of attorney, and how they can be used.
There are different types of powers of attorney
A power of attorney is a simple and inexpensive way to plan ahead. There are different types you can prepare. Which one is right for you depends on your needs and circumstances. With each type, you decide:
- What your attorney can and can’t do. The power you give your attorney can be limited to a single decision or task. Or it can extend very broadly.
- When your attorney can act. For example, you may want your attorney to manage your affairs only while you’re out of the country.
The person you give this power to is called the attorney. In this case “attorney” doesn’t mean “lawyer.” It simply means the person you’ve chosen to be your financial decision-maker.
Here we explain some power of attorney basics, and explore the different types you can prepare.
Powers of attorney cover financial affairs and legal matters
You can authorize your attorney to make decisions on your behalf, or do certain things, in relation to your financial and legal affairs.
Financial affairs include paying bills, dealing with bank accounts and income, applying for benefits, selling assets, paying taxes, paying off loans, applying for insurance, and dealing with your business, if you have one.
Legal matters include dealing with legal issues, getting legal advice and services, instructing a lawyer, and commencing legal proceedings on your behalf.
A power of attorney is different from a will. A will helps others distribute what you own after your death. A power of attorney helps you plan out the management of your financial and legal affairs during your lifetime. This includes what happens to your assets.
You can still make decisions with a power of attorney
You needn’t worry that drawing up a power of attorney will immediately strip you of the ability to run your own life. Your attorney can’t override decisions you make while you’re mentally capable of making them yourself. And even if you become incapable, your attorney has a legal duty to encourage your involvement, as much as possible, in any decision-making that affects you.
You need to be legally capable to sign a power of attorney
The law says you must be capable when you sign a power of attorney. You’re presumed capable, unless it’s demonstrated that you don’t understand the nature and consequences of making the proposed document.
It’s important to appreciate “capability” in the following two contexts:
- You must be capable at the time you sign the power of attorney. The law says you have to understand that you’re giving your attorney the power to deal with your financial and legal affairs, and the consequences of doing so. A medical diagnosis is relevant, but not decisive. For example, someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s might be experiencing some level of cognitive decline, but still be legally capable of preparing a power of attorney, because they understand the nature and consequences of doing so. Capability is time and task specific. Are you capable at the time you sign the document? Do you understand this specific document?
There is a specific six-part capacity test and special rules for signing an enduring power of attorney.
- Mental capability also matters at the moment the power of attorney is used. For example, enduring powers of attorney are designed to be used even after you become mentally incapable. On the other hand, a general power of attorney can no longer be used if you become incapable.
A general power of attorney may be used if you’re physically unable to manage your affairs
“I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in the fall. Sure, I could still calculate how much I owe the credit card company, if you asked me to. But I just don’t have the energy to juggle my everyday finances. Now is a time to focus on my health.”
– Akira, South Burnaby
A general power of attorney can be used when you’re still mentally capable of managing your own affairs, but for some other reason are unable to do so. The attorney’s authority stops if you become mentally incapable.
This may be a good option if you’re finding it difficult to handle your own financial affairs if have an illness, injury, or mobility issues.
You can give your attorney broad powers to do almost anything with your finances and property. But how much power you give to your attorney is up to you. The law says you can place conditions or restrictions on the power you give them.
An attorney’s power can be restricted with a limited power of attorney
“My house is on the market. My father got sick and I had to make a last-minute trip to Germany. I prepared a limited power of attorney so my friend Sara could sign the papers if my home sells while I’m gone. The authority ends when I come home from my trip."
— Walter, Victoria
You can choose to restrict your attorney’s powers to a specific task or time period. This is called a limited power of attorney. Sometimes it's called a specific power of attorney.
These are often used when someone temporarily can’t manage their financial affairs. A common example is when someone is away travelling.
With an enduring power of attorney, you can plan in advance for any future incapacity
“My husband’s in a coma — he had an accident at work. We have a joint bank account, so I can still pay the bills. But the car insurance is due and the insurance company won’t let me renew it. They say it’s because our car is in his name. So, on top of everything else, I’ve got a car I can’t drive and two young kids. If we’d thought to prepare enduring powers of attorney, I could have easily renewed the insurance."
— Anita, Burnaby
Preparing an enduring power of attorney is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to plan for your financial future. With it, your attorney’s authority to act for you can start right away and then continue — or “endure” — if you are incapable of managing your own affairs, whether due to illness, accident, or age-related decline.
Enduring powers of attorney are:
- Commonly used. They’re simple and relatively cheap to prepare.
- Flexible. They can be as general or specific as you like. They can cover financial situations from simple to complicated.
- Far better than no document at all. If you lose your mental capacity and haven’t put plans in place, the court may need to appoint someone to manage your money and property. This is expensive and time-consuming. And there’s no guarantee it’ll be the person you would have chosen.
For more information and guidance on how to prepare one, see our page preparing an enduring power of attorney.
A springing power of attorney becomes active when it’s triggered
An enduring power of attorney can be set up so that it doesn’t become active until a specified event happens. This is called a springing power of attorney. For example, the event might be that two physicians have declared you mentally incapable. At that point, the attorney you’ve chosen in advance can take over your affairs.
There are other options to plan for future incapacity
For financial and legal affairs
An enduring power of attorney is the most common way to plan for who will take care of your finances if someone happens to you. But there are other options. See our page on your options for planning your future financial and legal affairs.
For health care and personal care decisions
A power of attorney only deals with your financial and legal affairs. It doesn’t give your attorney the authority to make decisions about your body and what happens to it. For example, your attorney can’t consent to health care on your behalf or make decisions about where you’ll live.
A representation agreement lets you name someone who can support you to make health care and personal decisions. You can choose whoever you want as your representative – a friend, spouse, or adult child.
See our page on your options for planning for your future health and personal care.
Some of the options for free or low-cost legal help may be helpful if you are seeking advice on personal planning options.
There are options for free and low-cost legal help.
Depending on how complex your legal issues are, it can be helpful to have a legal professional assist you. There are options for free and low-cost legal help.
Options for free legal advice
There may be times when you want legal advice. Options for free legal advice include:
Lawyer Referral Service
A service that helps British Columbians of any income find a suitable lawyer to serve their legal needs. Operated by Access Pro Bono, the service provides the contact details of a lawyer who will meet with you for a free half-hour legal consultation. The lawyer can provide some initial advice on your options. Then, if you and the lawyer agree, you can hire that lawyer at their regular rates.
Lower Mainland: 604-687-3221
Access Pro Bono Clinics
At in-person clinics throughout BC, volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Lower Mainland: 604-878-7400
Legal Services Society
The agency that operates legal aid in British Columbia provides a range of advice and representation services to help people for certain types of legal problems who meet financial guidelines.
Lower Mainland: 604-408-2172
A more affordable way to hire a lawyer — unbundled legal services
According to national surveys of lawyer fees, hourly rates for lawyers range from $200 to $400, depending on the experience of the lawyer, the size of the law firm, and the type of matter. To hire a lawyer in a lawsuit costs $10,000 to $50,000 and beyond, depending on whether the case goes to trial and how complex and contentious it is.
An emerging option that can reduce the expense is to look for a lawyer that offers "unbundled legal services". This can allow you to get a lawyer's assistance depending on what you can afford and what you need the most help with. See our page on unbundled legal services to learn whether this option could be a good fit for your situation.
Notaries help with many non-contentious legal services
Depending on your situation, you may be able to get help from other legal professionals. A notary public is a legal professional authorized to provide many non-contentious legal services to the public. For example, a notary can prepare a will or power of attorney and notarize signatures on documents. The Society of Notaries Public of BC offers a list of notaries in the province.
Advocates provide help for low-income and marginalized people
Legal advocates provide free support, advocacy and information to low-income and marginalized people experiencing legal problems. Advocates usually work out of community agencies, such as community service centres, churches or women's centres. PovNet offers a Find an Advocate map, and Clicklaw's HelpMap lists dozens of legal advocates in BC.
Student legal clinics provide assistance in some communities
At student legal clinics in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, law students can help those who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance. The students help with legal problems such as tenancy or work problems, accessing government benefits, (less serious) criminal charges, and small claims cases. The University of British Columbia's Law Students' Legal Advice Program clinics serve the Lower Mainland and the University of Victoria's Law Centre serves the Victoria area.
Finding legal help in your community
The Clicklaw HelpMap includes options for free or low-cost legal help in communities across the province.
For more options for legal help, see the Dial-A-Law page on free and low-cost legal help.
Hire a lawyer to help you with parts of your legal matter. Get the support you need at a manageable cost.
Learn more about coming to work in BC temporarily, and your rights once you arrive.
Learn how to prepare for and settle into a job if you're coming to work in British Columbia.
People from all over the world discover opportunities to live and work in British Columbia. In fact, the province’s economy relies heavily on foreign workers. If you’re considering coming to work in BC, these tips can help you prepare for and settle into a job.
Tip 1. Explore government programs for foreign workers
Some people from other countries drop briefly into British Columbia for short-term employment. Others working here apply to become permanent residents. Either way, there are government programs available to foreign workers.
If you come to BC for temporary work
Every year, employers in British Columbia depend on workers from abroad to meet their short-term needs. Without these workers, some sectors of the province’s economy would face serious challenges.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program permit eligible foreigners to work in Canada for a limited time, and help employers tap into this workforce. (Employers may need to show they can’t find Canadian workers to fill these job openings.) See our guidance on working in BC temporarily for more information.
If you immigrate to Canada
BC’s economy benefits from skilled workers. The BC Provincial Nominee Program helps skilled workers from other countries get permanent residence in BC.
There are three ways this program can serve such workers:
- Skills Immigration: Helps skilled and semi-skilled workers in high-demand jobs in BC.
- Express Entry BC: Helps skilled workers wishing to immigrate quickly.
- Entrepreneur Immigration: Helps high-net-worth people who aim to invest in and actively manage a business in BC.
If none of these describes you, you may still be able to come to Canada through another program. For example:
- Canadian Experience Class: Helps people with skilled work experience in Canada to become permanent residents.
- Family Sponsorship: Allows citizens and permanent residents over 18 years of age to sponsor certain types of relatives to come to Canada.
- Self-Employed Persons Program: Helps people with experience in certain industries, and who will be self-employed in Canada, to become permanent residents.
For more immigration options, see the provincial government’s website.
If you’re immigrating to Canada, you can hire an immigration consultant or lawyer, though the law doesn’t require you to do so. If you choose to do so, watch out for immigration scams. The federal government has information on how to avoid being the victim of fraud and how to choose an immigration representative.
Tip 2. Get help from a settlement service
“I’m originally from the Philippines. Two years ago I moved to BC because my relatives live here. My English wasn’t great, and I didn’t have any Canadian work experience. After arriving, I contacted a settlement service. They helped me register in language classes, take a training course, and even look for jobs. I’ve been working as a mover for eight months now, and I feel very fortunate.”
– John Carlo, Surrey
In BC, community and government organizations assist people new to Canada. These settlement services can answer questions about living and working here. They can help with:
- language assessments and classes
- finding a job
- finding a place to live and navigating other parts of daily life, such as filling out forms or applications
- information about community services
Use this tool on the federal government’s website to search for settlement services near you.
Many community centres offer programs and facilities for newcomers to Canada, usually in a variety of languages. Try searching online to find a community centre near you, or ask your settlement service agency.
A neighbourhood house is similar to a community centre. Neighbourhood houses provide many programs and services in Metro Vancouver, and they’re open to everyone. Check out the Association of Neighbourhood Houses BC website to find one near you.
Tip 3. On searching for a job
In most cases, you must have a job offer in place before you arrive in British Columbia. Here are some resources to check out before you leave your home country:
- WorkBC job board. Offers a comprehensive database of jobs from across the province.
- WelcomeBC career profiles. Includes information on dozens of occupations in BC, including wages, licensing requirements, and more.
- BC’s Labour Market Outlook. Forecasts job opportunities in BC’s labour market over the next few years, and outlines the skills and education needed for them.
For more resources like these, see the provincial government’s website.
To kickstart your job search, you might also try these measures:
- Check the online job listings or classified sections of local and national newspapers.
- Reach out to the employment departments of the organizations you’d like to work for.
- Ask friends or family in BC for leads.
- Explore volunteer opportunities to help you get Canadian work experience.
- Visit the Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre for employment programs and information.
Tip 4. Get a credentials assessment if you’re a skilled worker
Before you start looking for work, you may need to have your credentials assessed if you wish to immigrate under any of the skilled worker or provincial nominee programs.
A credentials assessment will look at any accreditations you got outside Canada, such as:
- work experience
- professional credentials
This assessment will give potential employers an idea of the kind of work you’re qualified to do. It’ll also reveal if your credentials meet the standards set for Canadian workers. If they don’t, you may need to pursue more training, education or Canadian work experience.
See our guidance on coming to Canada as a skilled worker for more information on the topic.
No matter what type of job you’re looking for, make sure you can speak and understand the language. Basic linguistic skills to navigate in a new country are the bare minimum. To land the job you want may require a higher level of proficiency. See this page on improving your English and French.
Tip 5. Determine if you need a work permit
Most foreign workers need a work permit to be legally employed in Canada.
There are two types of work permits:
An employer-specific work permit sets the conditions of your permit, including:
- the name of the employer you can work for
- how long you can work
- the location where you can work (if applicable)
- the job you may work in
An open work permit allows you to work for any employer in Canada (with some exceptions). Find out if you’re eligible to apply for an open work permit.
Use this tool to find out if you need to apply for a work permit. Use this tool to determine what type of work permit to apply for.
See also our guidance on working in BC temporarily and extending your work permit.
Tip 6. Apply for a Social Insurance Number
A Social Insurance Number (SIN) is a nine-digit number you need to work legally in Canada, or to access government programs and benefits. A SIN is issued, for life, to one person only. It can’t be used by anyone else.
You may be eligible to apply for a SIN if you are:
- a Canadian citizen,
- a permanent resident, or
- a temporary resident.
Children 12 years of age or older can apply for their own SIN. The parents or legal guardians of children under the age of majority (19 in BC) can also apply for a SIN on the child’s behalf.
To apply for a SIN, you must present a valid primary document, such as a birth certificate, that proves your identity and legal status in Canada. You may also need to provide supporting documents if the name you currently use is different than the one on your primary document.
The federal government’s website explains eligibility and how to apply for a SIN.
Your SIN is your most important piece of personal identification. Take steps to protect it. Otherwise, you could end up being the victim of fraud or theft. The federal government’s website provides some tips on protecting your SIN and knowing when to give it out.
Learn your rights when it comes to your hours of work and working overtime.
Learn your rights to getting paid and working on statutory holidays.