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A Beginner’s Guide to Power of Attorney for Elderly Parents and Caregivers

Healthcare | January 24, 2023

An elderly parent signing a power of attorney form.

A little preparation can go a long way in supporting your family. As parents get older, it’s important to balance their independence while taking steps to make sure they’re taken care of in the golden years.

A power of attorney is one way that aging parents can prepare for the future and make sure their wishes are granted, even if they’re not in a position to make those decisions. Let’s break down how a power of attorney works and how it can save you and your loved ones from future complications.

What is Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney, also known as a POA, is an important legal document that allows another person to act on someone else’s behalf. The rules can differ from state to state, but the main idea is simple – a power of attorney allows an elderly adult to choose one or more people to make certain financial or legal decisions for them. These people are known as “agents” and are responsible for acting in the senior’s best interests.

The main point of having a power of attorney is to ensure that a senior has someone who can act in their place whether they aren’t available, either due to convenience or health problems. While power of attorney broadly describes a person who is legally allowed to make decisions for another, there is more than one type of POA. Elderly adults may require different versions of power of attorney, such as the following:

General power of attorney

As you may expect by the name, the general power of attorney gives agents a fairly broad range of power. Agents can act on a senior’s behalf for most legal or financial matters, such as signing documents, paying bills, or selling property.

One limitation of the general power of attorney is that it isn’t considered “durable.” Essentially, this form of POA ends once the senior in question becomes mentally incapacitated, either due to dementia, poor health, or some other means.

Durable power of attorney

Unlike the general power of attorney, durable power of attorney stays in effect regardless of a senior’s mental or physical condition. Durable power of attorney even lasts during a coma or some other event that makes the senior unable to communicate.

Medical power of attorney

A medical power of attorney only goes into effect once a senior is legally considered incapacitated. The agent is then allowed to make healthcare decisions for the senior, including signing off on medical treatments, different facilities, and more. This agent even has the authority to make calls over spouses and other family members if necessary.

Limited power of attorney

Unsurprisingly, agents granted limited power of attorney have a limited amount of power. The exact limitations are specific to each document – the senior can pick and choose what the agent controls. These details can be very specific, such as letting an agent only control one action, such as buying and selling stock, or giving them power over a certain category of transactions or responsibilities.

When Do Elderly Parents Need Power of Attorney?

As parents get older, it’s generally a good idea to consider setting up a power of attorney for a number of reasons.

Medical concerns

If a senior is dealing with any serious health problems such as dementia or a terminal condition, a durable power of attorney can protect them and their family in the event that they are unable to make decisions for themselves. It can also be a good idea to set up a power of attorney if an elderly parent is heading into an invasive surgery or some other event that could result in complications.

Financial responsibilities

Whether a senior is struggling to manage their financial responsibilities or simply doesn’t want to, a power of attorney can allow someone else to step in and help. This measure can make sure that all the bills are paid for and funds are properly managed.

Convenience

The reason why an elderly parent appoints someone as power of attorney isn’t always because they’re concerned about their future health or fiscal management skills. Sometimes it’s just easier to have another person be able to make important decisions. For example, if your parent is traveling, it can be easier for you to sign a document while they’re gone instead of waiting for their return.

Who Can Be Power of Attorney?

The simple answer is that elderly parents can choose just about anyone to serve as their power of attorney. According to the American Bar Association, the only people that aren’t allowed to be named power of attorney are minors or people who are otherwise incapacitated.

Of course, there are better choices than others. A power of attorney should be someone that the person involved trusts to act in their best interests and has the desire and ability to do so. Family members are common choices, although it’s smart to have an open conversation to discuss who would be the best person to serve as an agent. The principal senior awarding power of attorney can also name successors in case the original agent can’t act on their behalf anymore.

Multiple people can also be named agents under the same power of attorney. Naming multiple agents can make it more convenient if one person is unavailable. It can also help siblings or other loved ones work together to split up duties and take care of elderly parents. The downside is that everyone has to work together. If one agent doesn’t agree with another, it can hold up important decisions and lead to other issues.

How to Set Up Power of Attorney for an Elderly Parent

It’s surprisingly easy to obtain a power of attorney form. The exact forms you’ll need will be specific to where you live – for example, you’ll need an Ohio form if the principal lives in Ohio. The good news is that most state governments have these forms available for download on their websites. Some hospitals and physician offices may also have these forms available for medical powers of attorney.

Once you have the forms you need, there are a few steps that you need to take.

  1. Decide on which type of POA you need
  2. Determine who will serve as an agent
  3. Get a power of attorney form
  4. Complete the form and sign it in front of a witness
  5. Create copies of the POA form
  6. Store the POA form in a safe place
  7. Update the POA as necessary

While your family can set up power of attorney on your own, it’s never a bad idea to work with a lawyer. There are several different factors that you and your loved ones should consider in terms of which POA you need, and any specifics required to best serve your family. An attorney will be able to draft a better POA and guide you through the process.

Prepare Your Loved Ones for the Future

It isn’t easy to navigate the senior journey alone. By setting up a power of attorney, everyone can work together to take care of their loved ones.

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