What is a Durable Power of Attorney?
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows your loved one to appoint you or another trustworthy person (often referred to as the “agent”) to act on your loved one’s behalf concerning financial and healthcare matters should they become incapacitated. It’s important not to confuse a durable power of attorney with a general power of attorney, which ends automatically if your loved one should suffer a stroke or some other trauma that leaves them unable to take care of their own affairs.
It’s a good idea to have separate documents for financial and healthcare matters, even if the same person will be acting as the agent for both. This way, financial advisors and doctors won’t need to sift through information that doesn’t concern them.
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances – It’s Never Too Early
Anyone who has assets can benefit from having a durable power of attorney for finances. It’s important to act sooner rather than later. If your parents or loved ones wait too long and become incapacitated, a judge may decide who will take on the financial affairs, and may appoint a conservator, guardian of the state, committee, or curator, depending on the situation and the state of residence. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your parents get their wishes down in a legal document while they’re still able.
It’s Not an Easy Topic to Bring Up
No one’s eager to talk about the demise of their own – or their parents’ -- physical or mental capabilities, which makes broaching this subject especially tough for elders and their children. Many times, important wishes and instructions go unsaid and undocumented, and caregivers often find themselves having to head to court to sort these financial and healthcare matters out. Avoid this unnecessary stress. Talk to your parents or loved ones about a durable power of attorney as soon as possible. If you’re having trouble bringing up the subject, consider mentioning a related article or news story. This can open the door to talking about their personal situation. Make sure you’re in a private, quiet setting and have plenty of time to talk things through.
The Agent’s Job Description
Chances are, if you’re the primary caregiver for one or both of your parents, you’ll also be appointed as the agent for finances or healthcare – or both. The agent must always act in your parents’ best interest. Most often, the agent has authority over all the finances, but your parents or loved ones will decide how much of the financial responsibilities the agent will handle and when. Here are just some of the duties an agent may have:
- Make deposits
- Pay bills
- Manage insurance paperwork
- Oversee property and/or business maintenance
- File and pay taxes
- Claim property that’s inherited
- Manage retirement accounts
The durable power of attorney ends at death. In order to appoint someone to finish up their affairs after their death, your parents will need to name an executor in their will.
An Elder Law Attorney Can Help
Although there are forms available to draw up a durable power of attorney for finances, it can be helpful to speak to a lawyer – particularly one who specializes in elder care law. Laws vary from state to state, and can sometimes be confusing. An elder care lawyer can walk you and your parents through the durable power of attorney and other legal documents that will ensure that their wishes are honored.