Do I Need to Complete a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is just one of the legal documents you need, and it’s not just for the person you’re caring for – everyone in your family should have one! We’ve all read horror stories about celebrities, one of the most recent being the case of the recently deceased Stan Lee, co-creator of so many of our superheroes. Back in March, a few months before his death, Mark Ebner of The Daily Beast wrote the sobering tale of how Mr. Lee was being “Picked Apart by Vultures.”

While you may not have an estate the size of Stan Lee’s, you’re just as likely to have family members/close friends at a loss for what to do, at best, and damaging decades-long relationships at worst, if your wishes are not clear. And just like living wills and “Do Not Resuscitate” orders, a Power of Attorney is another important document you’ll need to consider.

What Happened with Dawne’s Mom

Here’s Dawne’s recollection of what transpired with her mom: “I was lucky in the sense that I’m an only child, so there weren’t siblings to argue with. On the other hand, it’s lonely to be the only child when your last surviving parent needs help. Since my father died years ago, it was just me. Several years before she passed away, my mother had a several-months-long ‘episode’ which required nursing home care. Luckily, she recovered, and shortly after she did, we made sure that all of her paperwork was in order. If I wasn’t an only child, getting her the care she needed during that time would have been more challenging.”

With all of the various legalities to attend to, this might seem overwhelming, especially if you’re already caring for someone. That’s why it’s so important to have the paperwork in order before something happens.

But let’s assume that you’re already caring for a loved one. It may not be too late, depending on your own situation.

What do Power of Attorney Documents Do?

According to the Caregivers Library, “Power of attorney is granted to an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to give that individual the legal authority to make decisions for an incapacitated “principal.” The laws for creating a power of attorney vary from state to state, but there are certain general guidelines to follow. Before you or a loved one signs anything, however, be sure to consult with an attorney concerning all applicable laws and regulations.”

We can’t stress this enough: Consult with an attorney. Consult with an attorney. Consult with an attorney. Not only do laws vary from state to state, and certainly from country to country, but are you qualified to determine the validity of a document you downloaded from a website? Unless it’s the website for your state/municipality/etc., we’re guessing the answer is no. Neither of us is qualified to evaluate these documents, but that’s what attorneys are trained to do. It may cost a little money, but it’s well worth it.

What Else Do I Need to Consider?

Depending on the type of power of attorney you complete, the “agent” or “attorney in fact” may be able to make financial decisions, make decisions about a loved one’s care, and much more. Choose the agent wisely. If you have siblings/other important family members, have this conversation early. And if you believe that there are potential minefields in the conversation, consider engaging an attorney, or a family mediator, in these discussions. The Academy of Professional Family Mediators is a great resource. And, of course, it’s good to get personal recommendations from friends and family. Look for someone with relevant experience, if possible; it’s probably better than, say, your cousin’s best friend’s brother-in-law who just passed the bar exam.

Be sure you thoroughly understand the various types of Powers of Attorney as well, and no, you can’t sign a Power of Attorney if you’re legally incompetent! Don’t fall for any of these five common misconceptions about Powers of Attorney; thanks to A Place for Mom for this list.

The Four types of Powers of Attorney

  1. General Power of Attorney With this type of Power of Attorney, the agent can perform a variety of actions, from opening bank accounts to paying bills.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney This is different from a General Power of Attorney in that it remains in effect after the person becomes incapacitated.
  3. Special or Limited Power of Attorney With this type, the agent’s powers are limited to certain activities, such as selling a piece of real estate.
  4. Springing Durable Power of Attorney Yes, we though that was an odd name too. This is only valid in certain states; it “springs” into effect when a particular event happens. For example, it may “spring” into effect when the person you’re caring for becomes incapacitated.

You can learn more about these four types from Blair Klayko’s piece, “4 Powers of Attorney Every Caregiver Should Know” on the Kindred Healthcare site.

The Two Main Types

Of these four, there are two main types of Powers of Attorney. According to Anne-Marie Botek, writing for agingcare.com, these are:

  1. Medical Power of Attorney – also known as a Healthcare Power of Attorney, this gives the agent the power to make decisions about your medical care if you are incapacitated.
  2. Financial Power of Attorney – this gives the agent the power to make decisions about your finances.

You may want to choose the same person as your agent for both of these, depending on your circumstances.

Are These Just For Caregivers? Heck, No!

Caregivers aren’t the only ones who need these, by the way! When Dawne’s daughters were young, she would occasionally travel for work. She and her mother completed a Medical Power of Attorney for her daughters. This way, if anything happened to them while she was away, Dawne’s mother had the authority to make medical decisions.

We know: it can be overwhelming. Don’t forget to check our Resources page, as we update it regularly. And if you need support or want to offer your ideas, please leave a comment on this post or let us know in our Facebook group.♠

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