Having a power of attorney does not give peace of mind to the elders, but also their caretakers. A power of attorney signifies that a trusted person is empowered to decide about important matters such as finances or health care on the elder’s behalf. If the person no longer has the ability to make sound decisions him- or herself, having such powers in place can be priceless. Today we explore two powers of attorney: to handle financial matters and oversee medical care.
Financial power of attorney
This document is called a “durable power of attorney for finances.” It provides a financial power of attorney. When this is in place, it provides the other party full authority to make financial decisions on the other person’s behalf. In this situation, the appointed person is traditionally called the “attorney-in-fact,” or “agent.” The person can handle routine tasks such as depositing Social Security checks or sorting through mail, but may also be responsible for complex tasks such as filing tax returns or watching over retirement accounts. The person does not have to be considered a financial expert, the most important aspect is that he or she has a good dose of common sense and is completely trustworthy. If needed, it is possible to complete difficult tasks by hiring professional third parties.
Medical power of attorney
This document is often called a “durable power of attorney for health care.” If the elder no longer wishes to make or is unable to make health care decisions, this trusted person is allowed to do so. Depending on the state of residence, the representative will be labeled as a health care surrogate, health care proxy, attorney-in-fact, agent, or something similar. This person works with health care providers to ensure that the elderly person receives the type of care they want. When the agent is arranging care, he or she is legally bound to follow the treatment preferences of the elder in so far as he or she knows what these preferences are.
If it is too late to plan
If you are struggling with a person who is already incapacitated, the process becomes a bit more difficult. You will have to ask the courts to name a conservator or guardian to watch over that person’s affairs. Oftentimes the court will appoint very close family members or a spouse to this position – of course carefully taking into consideration any and all evidence of what the incapacitated person might have wanted. It makes the process more difficult, but can still be arranged.
Approaching the situation
Especially if you see your parents struggle with certain decisions, it is only natural that you feel inclined to ‘take the reigns’ and help them as much as you can. However, it is important to remember that you are legally unable to, and morally should not want to, strong-arm someone into making a decision they are not comfortable with. If the worst-case scenario comes along and you have to ask the court to provide you with control over the elder’s affairs, just remember that this is always preferable to being charged with forgery or fraud later on.
Jonathan Rosenfeld is a nursing home abuse attorney and founder of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers. Much of Jonathan’s law practice involves prosecuting cases where elderly have been injured or neglected during their stay at a skilled nursing facility. Jonathan also has a blog on the topic, where he discussed new developments in this growing body of law www.nursinghomesabuseblog.com