Just as an advance Care Directive will help guide family members through medical decisions for an aging or sick loved one, a Power of Attorney will allow family or trusted caregivers to help with legal and financial affairs. It’s another part of a thoughtful plan that all adults should prepare so that someone they trust can help them through situations when they can no longer do it themselves.
Because taking charge of another person’s legal and financial future is critical to making sure your assets are in good hands, naming the right person to act on your behalf is very important. For example, choosing the child who always pays bills on time may be the better choice over the one who didn’t remember to send a birthday card. Trustworthiness is of the utmost importance in this case, so your family lawyer may be a better choice than a friendly neighbor you’ve only known a few years.
In fact, some scam artists often come into a senior’s life first as a caretaker, then gradually take over the finances. Sometimes their goal is to drive a wedge between the senior and their family, so that they eventually control everything the senior does and prevent any communication with loved ones. It’s another reason to choose your agent thoughtfully.
It’s never too early for adults to set up a Power of Attorney and name an agent (sometimes called attorney-in-fact). Sometimes, unfortunately, it can be too late, as when families try to set one up after signs of dementia present themselves and they need to consider long-term care situations. If a person is not clearly “competent” and cannot understand the implications of what they’re signing, then the court may need to create a guardianship or conservatorship, which is another, often more complicated matter.
Like other legal documents, a POA should be reviewed and updated regularly. This legal document is best prepared with the assistance of a qualified attorney. Since the POA agent’s authority ends with the death of their loved one, an attorney may also deal with a will, which takes care of a person’s assets after death.
There are many resources available to help you learn how to proceed when preparing your POA, such as these from AARP and AgingCare. The MN Attorney General’s website is helpful and also has a publication, “Probate and Planning” available for downloading or ordering.