When people begin making end-of-life plans, they often think of setting up a will or a trust. But another important safeguard you should know about is a document called a power of attorney (POA).
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A power of attorney allows someone else to act legally on your behalf. Tasks that a person with power of attorney may be able to perform for you include:
- Managing your bank accounts and investments;
- Creating a trust on your behalf;
- Selling real estate for you; and
- Making decisions about your medical care, treatment, and other end-of-life care.
If your elderly parent is making end-of-life plans such as establishing a will or a trust, it might be a good time to talk with them about giving power of attorney to you as their child. By taking care of establishing power of attorney for an elderly parent now, you can avoid a situation where a court-appointed guardian must be used.
Types of Power of Attorney
When you’re looking at how to get power of attorney for an elderly parent, there are several different types to choose from. Each type works differently and is made for different medical and legal situations. Powers of attorney fall into two categories: durable and non-durable.
1. General Power of Attorney
A general power of attorney allows one person (known as the “agent”) to make decisions for another person (the “principal”). A general POA for an elderly parent gives the agent decision-making power in all matters.
If your parent wants your help in all parts of their life, from selling their house to paying their medical bills, then general power of attorney is the way to go. It is important to note that general power of attorney ends when your parent is incapacitated or deemed legally incompetent.
2. Special Power of Attorney
Special power of attorney (also known as a specific or limited power of attorney) gives the agent power to make decisions about a list of subjects or tasks. For instance, an agent can be given the power to sell the principal’s home or to handle setting up their trust.
If your parent has other plans that specify their wishes in regards to the end of their lives, and they only want your help with specific matters, then they may choose to designate a special power of attorney.
3. Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney does not end with incapacitation. The benefit of a durable power of attorney is that it lasts even when your parent is deemed legally incompetent. This means that if they establish you as their agent when they have the mental faculties to do so, then you will be able to make decisions for them when they are no longer able to make those decisions themselves.
This is important if your parent is worried about the effects of mental conditions such as dementia in their old age.
4. Ordinary or Non-durable Power of Attorney
Non-durable power of attorney is the umbrella under which general power of attorney and special power of attorney both fall. It is the name for any power of attorney that starts when the document is signed but ends when the principal person is incapacitated.
5. Springing Power of Attorney
A springing power of attorney is a type of durable power of attorney that only takes effect at a certain point in the future.
If your parent does not need you to act with legal power in their stead right now, they can create a springing power of attorney, specifying that you will gain the legal power to make decisions for them when they are deemed unfit to do so.
6. Power of Attorney for a Child
Power of attorney for a child allows the person caring for a child to make decisions and act as a guardian if the child’s current guardian is unable to.
If your parent has custody of any of your nieces or nephews, or if you have younger siblings, then your parent may need to establish that you have power of attorney for the children currently in their custody.
7. Power of Attorney for Health Care
Power of attorney for healthcare (also known as medical power of attorney or a healthcare directive), gives the agent the power to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
While this is a good choice for people of any age, it is especially important for your elderly parents who may be more prone to accidents or mental decline due to age.
8. Financial Power of Attorney
Financial power of attorney gives the agent the power to make financial decisions for the principal. It does not apply to other legal or medical decisions that need to be made.
If your parents need help managing their finances as they age, they may want you to have a financial power of attorney so that you can make decisions regarding their savings accounts, retirement accounts, bills, and more.
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Steps to Get a Power of Attorney for Your Parent
Ultimately, your parent will need to be the one to grant you power of attorney. If your parent is mentally unable to make the decision to give you power of attorney, then you will need to ask a court to appoint a guardian to help them with any financial, legal, and medical decisions.
Here are the steps your parent can take to make you their agent:
1. The Parent Selects Their Agent
First, your parent will need to choose their agent. The agent will be the person with the power to make decisions on their behalf. If you have multiple siblings, then your parents will need to choose one to list.
In many cases, it is a good idea to also list a secondary agent. A secondary agent can step in if the primary agent becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to act on your parents’ behalves.
2. The Parent Chooses What Types of Authority To Give Their Agent
The authority given to the agent will completely depend on the parent’s current and projected needs. If they need help in their current situation, then they might choose a non-durable power of attorney, which can be further specified for financial or medical needs.
If they are looking into the future and planning for their end-of-life care, then a durable power of attorney (such as a springing power of attorney or a healthcare directive) might be best.
3. The Parent Uses a Power of Attorney Form
Once they have decided on their agent and the powers they want that agent to have, your parent will need to use a power of attorney form or work with a lawyer to create a power of attorney. This will be a relatively easy process for both your parent and yourself.
Oftentimes, people will need to create a financial power of attorney and then a separate health care power of attorney. Sometimes, the health care power of attorney form is combined with a living will.
4. The Parent Signs Their Power of Attorney With Witnesses and/or a Notary Public
Once the form is filled out, your state laws determine how to make the power of attorney legally valid. Usually, your parent will need to sign the power of attorney in the presence of witnesses and have it notarized.
It is important to note that your parent needs to be of sound mind when they sign the power of attorney form. This means that they must be able to make decisions for themselves and not have any medical conditions that would cause them to be deemed legally incompetent.
5. The Parent Delivers Their Power of Attorney to the Necessary People
The power of attorney form may need to be registered with a court, depending on your state or country of residence. Copies should be kept by yourself as the agent, your parents, their attorney, and anyone else who is deemed necessary.
When To Get Power of Attorney Over an Elderly Parent
It is important that you get power of attorney over your elderly parent while they are still capable of making decisions for themselves. Truthfully, people of any age can benefit from having a power of attorney in place, especially a durable, springing power of attorney and a healthcare directive.
Some parents want to establish power of attorney after a diagnosis (such as Alzheimer’s or a glioblastoma). Others simply want you to be able to take care of their bills and financial details as they travel during their retirement. No matter the reason, a power of attorney can bring peace of mind to all parties involved.
Your parents took care of you for much of your life. By establishing a power of attorney now, you are working with them to ensure that you are legally able to help take care of them as well. If your parents have not discussed their retirement and end-of-life plans with you, then there is no time like the present to bring it up.