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Surge in dementia spurs review of Ontario's elder laws

Across Ontario and throughout Canada, the numbers of those with some type of dementia is projected to double by 2034 and reach an estimated 1.4 million. The skyrocketing numbers are impacting family members and loved ones in unprecedented ways, but one of the main areas of concern is over the care of seniors. A serious problem with current laws is that a person's children may all have equal say in their care unless one of them was previously assigned as a conservator with power of attorney.

This problem is exemplified in the case of one Ontario woman who described her frustrating battle. She explained that she was in turmoil over the challenges of her mother's care as her three siblings all claim to be acting in her mother's best interests. However, they are all headed in different directions and cannot seem to agree on her care. Their experience confirms what at least one study has already proven: Ontario laws regarding seniors are complex, misunderstood and can cause problems among family members that may escalate to protracted and costly court battles.

While current legislation allow people to designate a power of attorney, if they do not, there is a specific order as to who will be responsible for making decisions, and entirely different issues can arise if a person -- either while not of sound mind or simply having no reason to suspect ill will -- designates a conservator who then exploits or abuses him or her. Currently, there are few safeguards and resources in place to prevent this kind of abuse.

The Law Commission of Ontario believes that reforms are necessary because of the resulting complications of the archaic legislation. A representative with the agency said that it is working on collecting recommendations to update the laws. She recognizes the impact these laws make on people and acknowledged that "there is a lot at stake" in ensuring that revised legislation touches all the right bases.

Deciding who should be given the responsibility of handling end-of-life matters is a difficult decision. A wills and estate lawyer could help clients draft a plan and identify the person best suited for the role of conservator.

Source: Metro News, "Ontario‚Äôs eldercare laws under review as dementia rates rise", June 26, 2014

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