Do You Need Power of Attorney for Your Loved One?

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​​​largest_Closeup_Bank_Form_and_Hands_7.jpgThose taking care of senior parents or partners often have to face difficult decisions. Do you need to get power of attorney in order to provide better personal care for your loved one?

What is power of attorney?

Basically, a power of attorney is a way for a person (called “the grantor” or “the principal”) to assign another person (called “the agent”)  to act on his or her behalf in legal, financial, or other matters.  If a person is granted a “general” power of attorney, that means that he or she has the authority to act on a wide range of matters. A “limited” power of attorney means that there are only certain things that he or she can do or only certain times at which he or she can act.

With a general power of attorney, authority is allowed only until such time as the principal becomes incapacitated – that is, cannot make decisions for him or herself.  So an ordinary power of attorney is useful as long as the principal is of sound mind.

A “durable” power of attorney is different; it does not become invalid if the principal becomes incapacitated; however, it’s important to note that a durable power of attorney would need to be set in place before the principal becomes incapacitated.

In some places, a separate power of attorney, called a “health care power of attorney,” may be required if the agent is to make decisions concerning health care decisions.

Whatever kind of power of attorney may be established, it becomes invalid upon the death of the principal.

Why might I need a power of attorney for my loved one’s personal care?

A lawyer can provide more detailed information about a power of attorney.
Sometimes a power of attorney just makes things easier for the person for whom you are caring.  For example, if your loved one is selling some property and has difficulty traveling, a power of attorney allows you to go to the closing and sign the appropriate papers. Alternatively, if you plan to fill out Medicare Part D forms for your loved one, you will need power of attorney to sign on his or her behalf.

When a loved one becomes incapacitated, however, having a durable and a health care power of attorney in place is absolutely essential; otherwise, it may be very difficult to have access to the tools and resources you need to properly care for your loved one.  In some cases, you may have to go to court to have a legal guardian appointed, which can be a relatively lengthy and costly experience.  When you have a power of attorney, personal care for an incapacitated one can be easier to arrange.

It’s a good idea for home caregivers and their care recipients to discuss whether a power of attorney process should be put in place. Clearly, there are matters of trust involved, as well as emotional reactions related to a recipient’s state of health, level of independence, and so forth, so it might be a tricky conversation to have. However, it’s better that both sides think about this issue and come to a clear understanding of what is or is not required so that they can act together on their decision.

Power of attorney laws can vary from area to area, and different institutions may have different in-house requirements about when a power of attorney is needed.  So if you decide to go ahead with the process, get advice from a lawyer about how to proceed.

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