Bring up talk about legal documents and many people's eyes begin to glaze over, especially if you're a family caregiver. After all, you have enough to do caring for your senior loved one without worrying about complicated legal issues and paperwork, right? However, two legal documents can potentially be important in the life of family caregivers and the seniors for whom they care: medical and financial powers of attorney (POAs).
Generally, a POA is a legal document that gives an individual the power to act on another person's behalf. In other words, having this document in place could give the older adult in your life the confidence in knowing that choices about their financial life and medical care would not be left in the hands of a stranger if they no longer could make decisions for themselves. A POA allows adults over the age of 18 to designate another adult to manage their financial and medical affairs if, because of health issues, they couldn't.
More specifically, a durable POA is one that can stay in effect for as long as individuals can no longer make decisions on their own. This can become particularly important, for instance, if a loved one would become incapacitated in any way because of a physical, mental, or cognitive condition.
So why go through the hassle of putting these legal documents in place? Not doing so can create a risk, the experts say. For instance, if something happens to your loved one who does not have a durable power of attorney, you may have to go to court to get the authority to handle that person's financial affairs and medical treatment.
POAs have the ability to give seniors who have them in place greater control over their lives. For example, if you were your mother's POA and she could no longer handle her business affairs or medical care, you would have the authority to pay bills, manage her daily business dealings and direct her care.
We've already discussed that POAs can cover both healthcare and business issues. In fact, here's why it may be important to have both medical and financial POAs in place:
Medical power of attorney – In general, a medical POA makes one individual a healthcare agent for another. Depending on the situation, this can allow the POA the authority to do, for example, the following:
Direct the medical care that someone needs. For instance, if your father was ill or needed surgery and you were his healthcare agent, you could work with medical professionals to determine the type of care he receives, the doctors and care providers who treat him, and even where he lives while he recovers.
Financial power of attorney – As the name implies, a financial POA generally makes an individual a financial agent for another. Depending on the situation, this can allow the POA the authority to do the following:
Access someone's financial accounts to pay household and medical bills, manage property, file taxes and apply for public benefits such as veteran's benefits and Medicaid.
There may be certain things POAs cannot do:
Change someone's will
Make decisions after their death (unless, for example, the POA is also the executor of the will)
Change or transfer POA to someone else
While there are do-it-yourself options to help you create your own POAs, legal experts say it's best to consult an attorney since state law regarding POAs may vary.
If the senior in your life doesn't have these plans in place, these resources may help.
And remember, it's important for you to consider obtaining such documents as well. Any adult over the age of 18 may want to consider these documents to help ensure their wishes are carried out if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves.
By Nancy Buley, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., Wholesale Tree Growers
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
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