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Power of Attorney Responsibilities

January 14, 2019

One of the biggest responsibilities a caregiver can take on is to serve as an agent for a loved one’s power of attorney. You may feel honored to be asked to fulfill this important role, but you may also be unsure of what it involves. Be sure to understand what’s expected of you before you say yes.

Hand signing a letterWhat Is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document in which a person (called the “principal”) gives another person (called their “agent”) permission to make important decisions for them when they either don’t want to or can’t do so themselves.

Generally, power of attorney is divided into two categories: financial and health.

Financial Power of Attorney

Financial power of attorney may also be called a general durable power of attorney. If you agree to be the agent for a financial power of attorney, your responsibilities to the principal could include:

  • Buying them items they need
  • Paying their bills
  • Overseeing their investments
  • Collecting on debts they are owed
  • Managing their property
  • Filing their taxes
  • Applying for government benefits such as Medicaid
  • Approving costs associated with healthcare decisions the agent for the healthcare power of attorney makes (see below), if that is a different person

Healthcare Power of Attorney

If you agree to be the agent for a healthcare power of attorney, your responsibilities to the principal could include:
  • Deciding whether they receive certain medical treatments, including life support, or not
  • Choosing which healthcare providers treat them
  • Deciding whether they can live at home or if they should move to an independent living community, an assisted living community, a memory care community or a skilled nursing community
  • Deciding what they should eat

Your loved one may or may not have a living will, a legal document that explain ahead of time, in detail, what types of and how much lifesaving medical treatment they would or would not want in different situations. If they have a living will, part of your responsibilities as their agent is to make sure that living will is followed. Still, sometimes situations happen that aren’t addressed in a living will, so whether your loved one has a living will or not, it’s important that you have a strong understanding of what the person wants from emergency and end-of-life care.

What a Power of Attorney DOES NOT Do

A power of attorney DOES NOT give an agent the right to:
  • Use the principal’s money for the agent’s own benefit; as an agent, you are obligated to act in the best interest of the person who assigned you this role
  • Make changes to the principal’s will
  • Make decisions about a person’s estate after they have died
  • Choose someone else to serve as the agent; you may choose not to act as the agent, but you can’t choose who will replace you

Some people worry that serving as an agent for a power of attorney means they will be responsible for their loved one’s unpaid medical bills or other financial obligations, but that is NOT the case.

Now that you know more about power of attorney responsibilities, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your loved one about your willingness and ability to serve as an agent for their power of attorney. You can learn more about securing power of attorney here.

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