Talking to your parents about a power of attorney (POA) probably isn’t the first thing on your mind, but it should be higher on your list. As they get older, it becomes increasingly likely that one or both of them may become incapacitated in the not-too-distant future, or just need help managing day-to-day tasks like paying the bills. That’s why your parents should consider assigning a power of attorney (POA)–a person who is legally able oversee finances and make personal and health decisions on their behalf.
Why think about it in advance? A POA must be put in place before someone becomes incapacitated or unable to make decisions. Without one, expect to go to court to be able to manage your parents’ financial and other obligations (an unnecessary hassle and cost, compounded by a potential uncertainty about what the incapacitated person would have wanted). And while acting as someone’s power of attorney is a demanding, and usually uncompensated role, it is often necessary to make sure your parent’s best interests are being attended to by trusted family members.
If you haven’t yet discussed POA details with your family, consider the following:
There are many reasons why your parents could need assistance
Some family members don’t think a POA is necessary if everyone is still in good health. It’s (incorrectly) assumed talking about a power of attorney is only necessary if the parent is diagnosed with a condition that could lead to incapacitation down the road. In actuality, emergencies can occur any time, especially for elderly people who may suffer more serious trauma if involved in a car accident or fall. Additionally, aging parents can benefit from a POA even if they’re not seriously injured or ill. Some POAs assist with small (but essential) tasks, such as writing checks on behalf of an arthritic parent, or using a parent’s credit card to purchase food and medicine while he or she is recovering from minor surgery. Our Power of Attorney document can be customized for your situation.
How will your parent’s preferences be carried out?
Depending on the laws in your state, outside parties such as lawyers or medical staff may be placed in charge of your parent’s affairs, in the absence of a POA agreement. These representatives may not know your parent’s preferences in regard to everything from pet care, to religious traditions, to end of life care. An adult child or other family member who has a long term relationship with the incapacitated individual is usually more likely to make decisions that are in-line with the parent’s own beliefs and desires.
Siblings may disagree
Even within families, there can be disagreement about what an incapacitated parent would prefer. Although siblings grew up in the same family, they may allow their own personal opinions to overshadow their recollection of their parent’s beliefs. Add in the stress of assisting an ill parent, and you have a recipe for a disastrous family fight. Parents can anticipate this situation and prepare for an argument-free future by deciding ahead of time who would best represent their personal, health, and financial matters. They can then make these decisions legally solid with POA documents. Sometimes different siblings may be selected as POA for different matters.
Technology advances can be confusing
As your parents age, it may become harder for them to keep up with such developments as online banking, ID theft protection, and email alerts for everything from checkup appointments to past-due bills. Elderly people who struggle with these “conveniences” are often prime targets of fraudsters. As a POA, you may be able to help in such ways as paying bills for your widowed mother who has never used a checkbook, or advocating for your elderly father who inadvertently became a victim of an online phishing scheme.
While the subject may be difficult to bring up with independent minded seniors, keep in mind that a POA is different from a guardianship, in that both the parent and the POA have equal control over the parent’s affairs. The extra help and assurance that can be provided with a POA agreement is a valuable resource for many seniors.
To get started on a power of attorney, visit the Rocket Lawyer estate planning center.