If you are a senior or care for a loved one who is, it may be time to have a serious discussion about power of attorney. A power of attorney, or durable power of attorney, lets you choose someone to act for you and in your best interests regarding medical and financial decisions. It’s the best way to make sure personal wishes are respected when you don’t want to or can’t make important decisions yourself.
What Does ‘Power of Attorney’ Mean?Power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person to give someone they trust the power to act in their place and make decisions on their behalf. The senior, called the “principal,” is the one who grants this power. It’s completely up to the principal to decide which powers to grant to their “agent”– specifying what actions their caregiver, adult child, or other trusted friend, can make, and when. The agent is then responsible to perform the specified tasks in the best interest of the principal.
It’s important for seniors to understand that power of attorney doesn’t give any rights away: Seniors can still do tasks for themselves. The document simply states that the agent can also perform the specific tasks on the principal’s behalf. You maintain power to revoke or change your power of attorney whenever you want.
Durable Power of Attorney Vs. General Power of AttorneyA general power of attorney gives the agent the authority to act on behalf of the principal in a wide range of situations including making financial, medical and insurance decisions. The power of attorney specifies exactly what those activities and decisions should be. However, a general power of attorney ends the moment the principal cannot make their own decisions.
By including the word “durable” in the power of attorney agreement, the document then extends the duration of the power of attorney in the event the principal is mentally incompetent at the time the agreement expires. The durable power of attorney acts as a protective barrier – insuring that the agent will make all arrangements, transactions and any necessary treatment decisions concerning his or her senior.
Can My Power of Attorney Make End-of-Life Decisions?A power of attorney or durable power of attorney can allow an agent to make treatment decisions for the principal. However, if the principal is in a permanent, vegetative state, an agent will not be able to make end-of-life care decisions for the principal. In this case, if you want to name a person to make decisions for you about withholding or continuing life-sustaining treatment or providing emergency treatment to keep you alive, you must create an advance health care directive.
Can My Power of Attorney Take Charge of My Estate?It’s important to understand that power of attorney, durable or not, ends at the principal’s death. If the senior wishes for their agent to continue to take care of their estate, the senior must name that person executor in their will. This way, that person can legally continue to act in the best interests of both the senior as well as any heirs.
Get Help from a LawyerIt’s important to enlist the help of a lawyer to create power of attorney and durable power of attorney documents. It’s worth the money to make sure the documents contain the right language that correctly conveys the principal’s wishes. Working with a lawyer on your power of attorney also assures the document complies with the requirements of the laws of your state.
Maintain Control with a Durable Power of AttorneySeniors ultimately want control over their finances, their medical decisions and their estates. A durable power of attorney lets a senior not only name the person they want in charge of executing their wishes, but also lets him or her specify what those decisions should look like. It’s not an easy task, but by making those decisions now, your senior can take charge of their future. This gives everyone – senior and trusted agent alike – peace of mind.