We all want to know our financial affairs are in good order, even when circumstances mean we can no longer manage them ourselves without assistance. Joint accounts and powers of attorney are ways you can allow other people to access your money.

Once you understand how both joint accounts and powers of attorney work, you will have a much better perspective on whether or not you want to add them to your financial planning toolkit. This article refers to powers of attorney for finances and property. There are also powers of attorney designed to enable your attorney to make decisions for you on your health and personal care. We won't be dealing with that type of directive here, but it is very important that you work together with your doctor, lawyer or other trusted advisor to determine if this is something you want to prepare for your life plan.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document in which you assign one or more individuals, known as an "attorney," the authority to act on your behalf regarding financial or legal matters for property. Don't let the term "attorney" confuse you. While you may choose a lawyer for this role, it's more often someone close to you: a friend or family member, or a corporate attorney such as a trust company who will act with your best interests in mind. You can give them the authority to act on all your property and financial matters, or it can be limited to specific functions, such as managing your investments. In short, the power of attorney is the document and the attorney is the person you appoint to act in your place.


Are all powers of attorney the same?

No, not all powers of attorney are the same and your document can be customized to reflect your needs and updated to reflect changes in your personal situation. For example, unless specifically stated, your attorney is no longer authorized to act on your behalf should you become mentally unable to manage your property. But if you elect to create an "enduring" or "continuing" power of attorney, your attorney can continue to act on your behalf even if you become mentally incapable. An enduring power of attorney can take effect as soon as you sign it, and continue should you experience mental incapacity. Alternatively, you could create a "springing" power of attorney that takes effect only upon a specific contingency, for example, should your family doctor determine that you are no longer mentally able to manage your own finances.

In Quebec, a power of attorney is also known as a mandate and an attorney is also known as a mandatary. With a mandate you can include provisions empowering your mandatary to represent you in the event of your incapacity to administer your property. However, in that case the mandatary must request the mandate be confirmed in a court of law, a process known as homologation.

Many people who suffer from disability and chronic illness choose to have an enduring power of attorney, as it gives them security in knowing that someone will be able to manage matters should their condition unexpectedly worsen.

Do I need one?

Everyone's needs are unique and you should discuss whether you need a power of attorney with your legal advisor, based on your circumstances. Perhaps you're out of country for an extended period of time and want someone back home to manage your banking on your behalf. If you do choose to appoint an attorney, it's very important that you choose the right person to handle this critical responsibility.

Who can be an attorney?

Anyone you trust to make decisions on your behalf can be your attorney, as long as they are mentally competent and have reached the age of majority in your province or territory*. CIBC employees are not permitted to act as attorney for CIBC clients, except where there is a close family relationship, which has been reviewed and approved at CIBC's sole discretion.
*Additional qualification requirements may apply in your province or territory.

Who should I choose?

Since this decision can have a significant impact on your well-being, carefully weigh your options when selecting your attorney. And remember, you can choose more than one attorney. The choice is ultimately yours to make, but we suggest someone who:

  • You trust completely
  • Shares your values and morals
  • Is knowledgeable about financial matters
  • Is located near you geographically, for convenience
  • Understands and is accepting of the role

Some people appoint a trust company, such as CIBC Trust, as their attorney for property, perhaps jointly with a family member or close friend. The trust company brings expertise to the relationship, while the family member or friend has a personal understanding of your motivations and wishes. Whoever you choose, make sure they're willing and completely understand the duties they're responsible for.

How to establish a power of attorney at CIBC 

A power of attorney is a legal document in which you give one or more individuals — known as an "attorney" — the authority to act on your behalf regarding financial or legal matters for your property.

While requirements may vary depending on the circumstances, the following is an overview of the basic requirements for both the "grantor" (the accountholder who is assigning power of attorney) and the "attorney" (the individual acting on the accountholder's behalf) for an account at CIBC to operate under the authority of a power of attorney.   

You should consult a legal advisor to ensure that a power of attorney is the right option for you given your personal circumstances. It’s also important that you understand what a power of attorney means and that you know and understand the legal requirements in your province or territory. This brochure Opens a new window in your browser by the Employment and Social Development Canada provides some useful information about powers of attorney and joint bank accounts. 

CIBC can provide you with a power of attorney form, but you aren’t required to use it. If you’d like to use the CIBC power of attorney form, contact your CIBC representative to schedule an appointment. Your representative will review the form with you, obtain your instructions on appointment of attorney(s) and fill in the form for you to sign. You may sign it at the meeting with your CIBC representative if you are comfortable with using it. Otherwise, you may take the filled-out form away and consult with your legal advisor. 

Note that the CIBC power of attorney form cannot be amended or customized, such as to require multiple attorneys to act jointly, or to include any restrictions or limitations on attorney authority other than what is contained in the form.  If you wish to have a customized power of attorney, do not use the CIBC form. 

Note that, in some provinces, the power of attorney must also be signed by the attorney and witnessed, or it may require a specifically worded accompanying certificate.
You can always use a form of power of attorney prepared by a third party (like, for example, your lawyer) or one downloaded from the internet, purchased or received from your provincial government. Regardless, the power of attorney document must meet the legal requirements in your province or territory to be acceptable by CIBC.

Once the power of attorney document is completed, you or your appointed attorney(s) can initiate the setup as follows:

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

Who should attend?
  1. Client (person making the power of attorney): Must attend unless there is a valid reason for the absence (e.g. physically unable or out of country) 
  2. Attorney(s): If multiple attorneys must act jointly, they must all attend
What should you bring?
  1. Power of attorney document:
    1.  For non-CIBC forms of power of attorney, either the original or an original notarized copy dated within the last 30 days
    2. For CIBC form of power of attorney, the original form must be presented  
  2. Proof of incapacity, if the client is mentally incapable
  3. Identification: The Attorney(s) and the Grantor must meet existing CIBC standards for identification providing two pieces of acceptable identification, one of which must be government-issued and include a photo. They must also identify their birth dates and occupation. You can review our comprehensive list of acceptable identification
What will happen during the meeting?
  1. The power of attorney document will be obtained
  2. If a non-CIBC form of power of attorney is presented, a certified true copy will be made and the original will be returned to the client for safekeeping
  3. If a CIBC form of power of attorney is presented, CIBC will keep the original  
  4. Proof of incapacity will be obtained (if applicable to your situation)
  5. Appropriate identification will be obtained and logged for all parties present 
  6. Attorney(s) will sign an Attorney Acknowledgement and Indemnity Agreement; the client will also sign if present  
  7. Any internal CIBC setup forms that require client and attorney signatures will be completed
  8. Any additional requirements for the setup will be identified; e.g. if power of attorney was executed outside of Canada, a statement from a lawyer licensed in that jurisdiction that it was validly executed and complies with that country's laws. Also note that for your borrowing needs, products such as mortgages and personal loans may have additional requirements for operating under a power of attorney.
Next steps CIBC will review and assess the power of attorney documents for provincial requirements and will inform you and your appointed attorney(s) of outcome. Initiation of power of attorney request doesn’t automatically result in acceptance by CIBC.

Note: The information provided here is general and actual steps and results may vary based on the particular circumstances.

If the client is mentally incapable, the appointed attorney(s) must provide proof of mental incapacity to bypass this step (may provide in Step 3 meeting).

Making changes

As long as you're mentally capable, you have the right to change or cancel the power of attorney at any time. As your needs change, so can the document. Just make sure CIBC and any other financial institutions you have accounts with have the most recent version on file.

If you have an existing power of attorney and create a new power of attorney, make sure you are aware of the impact of the new document. Consider speaking with a legal professional to determine if there are any conflicts between the new form and the previous document, and whether the new power of attorney revokes the earlier power of attorney.

What if CIBC needs to conduct further review?

On occasion, CIBC may question the authority of the attorney to give instructions on your behalf or the acceptability of the power of attorney document. In these cases, CIBC will inform you or your attorney that a review is required and will indicate the expected duration of the review.

This process can vary in duration, depending on the complexity of the issue. For example, if the power of attorney form is a photocopy, your attorney will be asked to provide an original or an original notarized copy. Some issues may be more complex and require a more thorough review.

Please note that if the review is due to CIBC having concerns related to potential financial abuse or other illegal activity, CIBC may be prohibited by law from disclosing its concerns and will investigate accordingly.

Escalation process regarding CIBC's review

Should you or your attorney not agree with CIBC's findings, any concerns should be discussed with an advisor at your local branch. If the advisor is unable to resolve the matter, disputes will be escalated appropriately within CIBC. You can learn more about our dispute resolution procedure by asking for a printed copy of CIBC's Our Service Commitment to You document, which is also available at any CIBC Banking CentreOpens a new window in your browser or by calling CIBC Telephone Banking.

What does it mean to be appointed as an attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document in which an individual known as the “grantor” or “donor” has appointed an attorney. If the grantor has appointed you as the attorney, they have given you the authority to act on their behalf regarding financial or legal matters for property.

If you have been appointed as an attorney, you do not become the owner of the grantor’s property or money, you just manage it on their behalf. You must always act for the benefit of the grantor and in their best interest.

Acting as an attorney is a very important responsibility and you should consider seeking legal advice to determine all of your duties and responsibilities, as well as seeking tax advice to assist you with managing the assets of the grantor.

Learn more about general duties of an attorney (PDF, 240 KB) Opens a new window in your browser.

What about joint accounts? 

Some people see joint accounts as a simpler alternative to a power of attorney. But they are actually a transfer of ownership and can be risky. With a joint account:

  • Two or more individuals have access to the account
  • Each person can deposit, withdraw or transfer funds, regardless of who put them into the account
  • Deposits payable to only one of the joint accountholders can still be deposited into the account

However, these benefits may themselves be risks: joint accounts can leave you vulnerable to financial abuse, since everyone has full and equal access to the funds regardless of where they originated. Some other risks to consider include:

  • Funds in a joint account may be subject to claims by the creditors of one of the joint accountholders
  • In the case of a marital breakdown of one of the joint accountholders, the account could be considered a matrimonial asset and divided accordingly

In contrast, the law requires that if you are not capable, the person you have named as your attorney must act in your best interest and use your money for your benefit. If funds are misused, you or someone acting on your behalf can call on legal authorities to assist.

When an account is in your sole name, your money ordinarily will not be subject to claims by creditors of your attorney. When an account is made joint, with right of survivorship, (an option not available in Quebec), generally the assets will bypass the estate and not be processed through your will. The power of attorney ends upon your death and your will is used to determine how you want your estate divided, whereas joint assets will be transferred directly to the joint owner regardless of your estate plan.

Protecting seniors

Understanding powers of attorney and joint accounts is an issue that is particularly important for senior citizens, as they can be more vulnerable to financial abuse. You must understand that the power of attorney may grant the attorney authority to do almost anything you could do with your own property. Working cooperatively, the federal and provincial governments have created an online brochure on this topic, What every older Canadian should know about: powers of attorney (for financial matters and property) and joint bank accountsOpens a new window in your browser.

Get good advice

Many people draft powers of attorney at the same time they create or update their wills. This is a great idea, because you are making important decisions when you are healthy and able to take your time to make a plan that best suits your needs. As with all estate planning, the key is to get good advice from a knowledgeable legal specialist and put your plans in place before you need them. This can provide you with peace of mind regarding your wishes for yourself and your family. It is always wise to create a power of attorney when you are not in a crisis situation so that your wishes are clearly stated.

At CIBC, we encourage you to put in place a plan so that your wishes will be followed — an important step to having peace of mind, both now and in the future.

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