As your parents age, it can become a struggle to respect their autonomy and independence while making sure you take all the right steps to keep them protected for the future. It's a phase in life that comes with some difficult decisions that you and your family will have to make together. One of those decisions is setting up a power of attorney.
A Power of Attorney Guide
A power of attorney is a legal designation you can provide to another individual to act as your representative in business, financial and health decisions that would otherwise require your explicit input. It's one of the most important documents that a senior should have.
Fortunately, setting up a power of attorney is fairly simple and can save your family a lot of time and trouble down the line. It's an important step to take sooner rather than later, even if your parent is still in good health and still has a sound mind.
Reasons for Seniors to Consider a Power of Attorney
A power of attorney gives a chosen family member or loved one the ability to step in and make decisions that need to be made at moments when a parent or senior either can't do so themselves or would rather not have to.
There are a lot of scenarios where it's convenient for seniors to have a power of attorney and others where it's crucial.
Some examples include:
- If paying bills and staying on top of other financial obligations becomes difficult and they want to offload some of that work to a trusted advisor or family member.
- If they have an upcoming surgery and want to know someone is empowered to be in charge during the surgery and while they recover.
- If they want to make sure all financial and health care decisions and responsibilities will be covered in case of an accident or if they become too ill to manage them themselves.
- If they're traveling in retirement and need someone to take care of their responsibilities back home.
- If they've received an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis and want to make sure their loved ones can take over making financial, health and legal decisions for them when the time comes that they're mentally incapable to do so.
In short, if there's any reason at all that a senior may benefit from someone else having the legal status to help make important decisions and manage their responsibilities, then setting up a power of attorney is in order.
When Should a Senior Set Up a Power of Attorney?
The short answer is: before they need it. The sooner you sit down to discuss a power of attorney and get it set up, the better. That becomes even more so the case if your parent receives a concerning diagnosis.
If you wait too long and your parent is determined no longer competent to make their own decisions, you'll be stuck going through a complicated and expensive court process to set up a conservatorship and/or guardianship. A power of attorney is a much simpler process and one your loved one has more control over. It really is better to get it done long before you need it.
There are a few main things you'll want to consider when choosing the right agent:
- It doesn't have to be family. If your parent has an adviser or close friends, they consider to be a better solution rather than choosing between their children, that's a viable option here as well.
- Knowledge is helpful too. Someone familiar with medical procedures and treatments may be able to make better decisions as medical power of attorney; the same goes for someone with experience in accounting as a financial power of attorney. Your parent should consider if their agent has the required knowledge to make informed decisions
- They can choose more than one agent. A senior can choose one agent for financial power of attorney and another for medical power of attorney. Or they can choose multiple agents for both. This can be a good way to spread the responsibility around if there's a good chance one of the agents might be unavailable when needed or overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. But be careful here – if there are multiple agents who all disagree with each other, that will create a fraught situation. It's often better to have one person in each role. They can also designate an alternate agent in the event that the first agent is unable to serve.
- The most important factor of all here is trust. Who can your parent trust completely to always put their needs and well-being first? There's a risk of hurt feelings here if a parent acknowledges that they trust one of their family members more than the others, but at the end of the day, this is their decision. The rest of the family should be prepared to accept it and put their own egos aside.
Once your parents have decided who they want their agent to be and what powers they want to grant them, the hard part is done. Now you simply need to meet with a lawyer to have them draw up the paperwork.
Let us help you determine the best option for your specific situation. If you have questions about any of the above, or you're simply looking to discuss your options, we would be happy to meet with you for a complimentary meeting. Call our office today at (256) 519-9970 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.