Naturally, we want the very best for our loved ones as they begin to age. When it comes time for seniors to get help with some of their daily responsibilities, other family members can step in with the legal right to make decisions. Healthcare and living concerns are often accompanied by their own set of stressors, so it’s important that family members take precautionary measures to ensure high-quality care and alleviate pressure from caregivers offering support.
One of the most significant steps a family can take in laying the foundation for long-term care is to establish a power of attorney to facilitate healthcare, legal, and financial affairs.
It is common for families to wait too long to elect a power of attorney. In doing so, they can miss out on the collective input of all loved ones and may default to hastened decision making under stress.
With ample preparation, you and your family can choose the power of attorney that’s right for you and your loved one. In some cases, it may be possible for multiple people to share these duties. For example, you may choose to divide responsibilities into categories such as medical versus financial assistance. No matter what consensus you arrive at as a family, communication and collaboration are key. Consider this input to help you get started.
Types of Common Power of Attorney Authorizations
When people talk about power of attorney, they are most likely referring to one of the following three common types.
1. Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is what most people think of when they hear the phrase. This form of power of attorney is in place as soon as the principal signs it and remains effective until the agent's rights are revoked or the principal passes away.
2. Nondurable Power of Attorney
Nondurable powers of attorney are usually used in specific, temporary situations, such as handling your loved one's financial affairs when they are not present. One example would be when a principal is on an extended trip and needs you to handle a financial transaction. A nondurable power of attorney is not valid after the specified time period or if the principal should become incompetent, disabled, or unable to make decisions.
3. Springing Power of Attorney
With a springing power of attorney, the agent does not receive the right to make decisions for their loved one until the loved one becomes incapacitated. However, some states don't recognize these, so it is important to become familiar with your state’s estate laws or to contact a reputable elder law attorney who can help you.
When Is the Right Time To Get Power of Attorney for Your Parent or Loved One?
Many people wait until a serious illness or a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia to start the process of establishing power of attorney. However, senior care experts strongly advise against doing so for several reasons.
First, adults cannot legally sign a power of attorney while they are considered incompetent or unable to read or sign the documents. This can present a challenge for you as you try to navigate the complex decisions that need to be made when a loved one falls ill. Without permission to handle their affairs, you won’t have much of a say in their medical care or financial affairs. Additionally, health challenges are difficult to navigate for all involved. It is much better to take care of this without the influence of stress and concern for your loved one clouding your judgment.
The best time to establish a power of attorney is before your loved one needs it—when they are healthy, coherent, and able to have an open discussion with you about their wishes and plans in case something happens. Often, adult children of aging parents are hesitant to have the conversation about power of attorney, but it is important to do so sooner rather than later.
How Do You Get Power of Attorney for Your Loved One?
The process of establishing power of attorney can feel overwhelming, but there are some simple steps you can take.
After speaking with your senior loved one about assigning power of attorney, the first step is to get organized. Find out what legal and estate planning, if any, your loved one has in place. Gather all medical records and financial information for bank and investment accounts. Learn about the laws in your state and which power of attorney options are available to you and your family.
Consider reaching out to an elder law or estate attorney for help.
Because laws differ across the country, a local elder law or estate attorney can help ensure that the document is executed properly. Although you don’t need a lawyer to complete power of attorney forms, an experienced attorney can help you complete the forms accurately and answer any questions you may have about the process.
Have a notary validate the forms.
A notary must be present while you and your parent meet to create the power of attorney documents. Depending on where you live, your state may require additional witnesses for forms.
Distribute copies and keep good records.
Give copies of the power of attorney forms to your loved one and other family members. Store the originals in a safe, dry place, such as a home lock box or safety deposit box. It is also a good practice to keep accurate copies of any other documents, such as living wills, insurance documents, house and car titles, and bank statements.
Get the Resources You Need
Securing a power of attorney for your aging loved one is an important first step in making sure they receive quality senior care. The Arbor Company is here to help you as you navigate planning for long-term care for your loved one. For more information, download our free guide, A Step-By-Step Guide to Legal Planning for Seniors.