Understanding Power of Attorney: A Guide for Caregivers and Families

If your senior loved one is no longer capable of making sound decisions on their own, it may be time to consider obtaining a power of attorney (POA). This legal document grants a specific individual the authority to act or make decisions on behalf of another in financial, health, or legal matters.

While the decision to pursue a POA is not one that should be made lightly, it’s often necessary as seniors’ cognitive abilities or physical health wane.

This guide will explain when a power of attorney may be necessary, how to approach the topic with your senior loved one, and the different types of POAs available. With this knowledge, you can ensure your loved one’s wishes are respected and their affairs are properly managed.

When do you need a power of attorney?

Families typically pursue a power of attorney when their senior loved one begins to experience difficulties managing their own affairs due to health issues or cognitive decline. However, some seniors opt to proactively give a trusted family member POA while they’re still in relatively good health.

This is typically the best approach, as the senior can make the decision on their own and choose the person they want to be their POA. It prevents pushback, disagreements, and hurt feelings down the road when the POA is actually needed.

In addition, a POA can only be signed by someone who is mentally competent and of sound mind, so it’s important not to wait until it’s too late.

If your senior loved one is experiencing any of these signs or situations, it may be time to seriously consider a POA:

  • Difficulty managing finances, such as paying bills, managing investments, or staying within their budget
  • Making decisions that are out of character, highly impulsive, or dangerous
  • Experiencing significant physical or mental health issues that may incapacitate them or leave them unable to make wise decisions
  • Has been diagnosed with a progressive and debilitating condition like Alzheimer’s or dementia
  • Will be undergoing a major medical procedure or surgery
  • Will be traveling outside the country and may need someone to manage their affairs back home

Some seniors also choose to give a trusted family member or friend POA due to unstable family dynamics. That way, they can ensure their wishes are carried out, despite disagreements among family members.

How to discuss a POA

Discussions surrounding mortality and end-of-life are never easy, so it’s important to be sensitive to your loved one’s feelings and perspectives when bringing up the topic of a POA. These tips will help you handle the conversation with care and respect:

  • Choose the right time: Talk about it when there are no immediate health crises and when everyone involved is calm and not rushed.
  • Be clear and direct: Explain what a power of attorney is, why it’s important, and how it can help protect them and ensure their wishes are carried out.
  • Focus on the benefits: Emphasize that a POA is about respecting their wishes and protecting them, not taking away their independence.
  • Include them in the decision: Make it clear that they are involved in the decision, including who will be their agent.

Types of power of attorney

Different types of power of attorney suit different situations, so you’ll need to decide which one is best for your family’s needs. Your options include:

  • General power of attorney: A general power of attorney grants you broad power to act on behalf of your loved one. You can manage their finances, make medical decisions, sign official documents, handle their business operations, and more.
  • Medical power of attorney: A medical or healthcare power of attorney only allows you to make medical decisions on your loved one’s behalf when they are mentally or physically incapacitated.
  • Financial power of attorney: A financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage your loved one’s financial affairs, but only those that are specified in the POA. For example, they may permit you to pay their bills and manage their bank accounts but not handle their real estate or investments.

You’ll also need to specify when the POA goes into effect and how long it lasts. The POA can be:

  • Durable: A durable power of attorney starts immediately after signing and stays in effect even if the individual loses mental or physical capacity. So it’s generally the default when it comes to senior care and planning for the future.
  • Springing: This type of POA doesn’t go into effect right away. Instead, it only applies when a certain specified condition is met. While this may seem useful — since you could have it go into effect when your loved one is declared incapacitated — the opposite is more often true. “Incapacitated” means different things to different people, even doctors, so it winds up becoming a lengthy medical and legal battle.
  • Non-durable: This POA grants you the authority to act in specific instances only. For example, a senior might grant a limited power of attorney to a family member to sell a home or manage a particular financial transaction. So it’s not particularly useful for long-term care needs.

Whichever type of POA you choose, you’ll need to consult with a lawyer to draft the document, and then you (or another chosen agent) and your senior loved one will sign it, typically in front of a notary.

Looking out for your loved one’s best interests

A power of attorney is a fundamental tool that helps seniors and their families navigate the realities of growing old. It protects your loved one’s interests and ensures that their medical and financial needs are met according to their wishes. So it’s better to approach it sooner, while your loved one is still capable of making their own decisions, rather than waiting until the situation becomes critical.

While we can’t help you with legal concerns like POA, we can help meet your loved one’s caregiving needs. Our compassionate, highly trained in-home caregivers are dedicated to helping seniors live rich, fulfilling lives, even in the face of debilitating health issues.

If your loved one needs the support of a professional caregiver, contact us today. We’ll get to know your family’s needs and develop a customized in-home care plan that works for you.

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and don’t claim to offer legal advice. If you have questions concerning power of attorney, we recommend consulting with a lawyer specializing in POA.

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