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When and Why to Consider Power of Attorney

By Ruby Cemental

One of the most uncomfortable situations seniors face is talking about death with an adult child. While parents are often willing to relinquish a measure of independence in some matters, they may be reluctant to discuss financial or medical matters with their children. When is it time to consider a power of attorney, and why is it wise to do so?

When to Consider Power of Attorney

The time to consider drafting a legally binding power of attorney is long before you will actually need to use it. Waiting until you are unable to make your own decisions because of incompetence or disability puts your children in a very difficult situation, legally speaking, and does nothing to protect your interests.

Here are some signs, however, that you need power of attorney:

  1. You Keep Forgetting To Do Routine Things: We aren't just talking about forgetting where you parked. If you consistently forget to pay bills, brush your teeth or where your house is then it might be time to consider getting a power of attorney.

  2. Your Friends And Family Are Worried About You: If your friends and family frequently express concern for your well being then it might be time to start a dialogue about getting a power of attorney.

  3. You Are Frequently Being Taken Advantage Of: If you've been the victim of online scams or over the phone scams targeting the elderly then it' time to think about getting a power of attorney.

Why Have Power of Attorney Available

There are several reasons why you should get power of attorney available as you grow older. Here are just a few. 

Family Members Can Take On Medical Challenges

Someone will need to make difficult decisions for you in regard to your health. Power of attorney allows your loved ones to make decisions on your behalf when you are unable to. This can provide you with some sense of relief, knowing that a loving family member is charged with overseeing your medical challenges. 

When you choose a medical power of attorney, you need someone who isn't afraid of talking directly to doctors and other medical personnel about your care. This might mean making critical decisions about how your life ends, including adding or even removing a feeding tube.

You Can Make Your Wishes Known

Sometimes emotion gets in the way of making smart medical decisions, and it's why you need a medical power of attorney comprehending your wishes. Without someone understanding why you want a procedure done (or not done) to extend or end life, you could be suddenly placed in a medical scenario you never wanted. When you're specific about the reasons why you don't want something done, the medical power of attorney upholds your philosophy. 

Medical Powers of Attorney Lets You Choose an Alternate

A very good reason for a medical power of attorney is the ability to choose an alternate overseer if you so choose. This is important because your initial choice might not have capability to carry out their duties due to their own death or illness. Fortunately, you can do this with all forms of a power of attorney. As always, it's important to make sure the alternate follows your wishes as well.

You Can Distribute Your Medical Power of Attorney

Another great reason to have a medical power of attorney is the freedom to copy it and distribute it to those who need a copy. While you have to notarize and file the initial copy with your county, having the legal ability to send copies to any relevant medical personnel or anyone else who matters is a smart move.

The more people who have a copy of your medical power of attorney, the less disputes occur when you need end-of-life care. It also creates teamwork in making sure your wishes are accurately fulfilled.

Loved Ones Can Help with Financial Matters

You may be surprised to know how little your children can help you with financial matters if you fail to designate one or more of them to handle your finances if you cannot do so. For instance, if you became housebound because of illness or injury, you may assume that your child could use your checking account to pay necessary bills, or transact banking business in your behalf.

However, that is not the case. Unless you have given your child authority to handle financial matters for you by preparing a legally valid power of attorney, your child's hands are essentially tied when it comes to helping you handle your finances.

What are some of the things that your child can handle for you if you should become unable to do things for yourself? As your attorney in fact, your child might sort through your mail, deposit Social Security checks into your account, watch over any investment or retirement accounts, or even file your tax returns for you.

Tips for Choosing Your Power of Attorney

It can be difficult to decide who should make decisions on your behalf. Here are some general tips to guide you. 

  • Proximity: Medical records are mostly digital now but having your proxy on-site is often important to insure directives are carried out with fidelity and to see for oneself the impact of a medical condition. 

  • Availability: Ideally a medical decision maker will only be called upon once. Some conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's are progressive and will necessitate long term oversight. Your proxy should be in good enough health to see you through all your medical care even if it lasts years.

  • Knowledgeable: If you are trusting your life to a third party you want him or her to make the most informed decisions possible. 

  • Assertive: Your power of attorney must make hard decisions that may conflict with the desires of other family members or go against the medical establishment.

  • Compatible Beliefs: If your health plan is premised on a belief in medical miracles, then choosing someone who shares similar faith will make the job easier. 

  • Emotional Distance: Most people choose their spouse as their proxy but this often puts too much burden on them in an already difficult time. An adult child or grandchild is at times better able to act on medical facts rather than emotions.

  • Decisiveness: A power of attorney is put in place to make potentially life or death decisions. Time may be of the essence so naming an individual that can make a tough call quickly is key.

For more information on how to make plans for your senior, consult our Aging in Place Timeline. And don't hesitate to reach out! 

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