Everyone Should Have a Power of Attorney

Once an individual turns 18, no one else has the legal right to make a decision on behalf of another adult without a power of attorney. If your elderly parents have not yet assigned a legal power of attorney, should they become ill or have an accident that deems them incapable of making a decision, their future may be left in the hands of strangers. Having a power of attorney will enable a trusted loved one to manage their health and financial when they’re no longer able to. Without a power of attorney, the only alternative is going through a guardianship proceeding. This undesirable alternative is time consuming, plays a major emotional toll and can exceed costs totaling more than $10,000.

What is a Power of Attorney?‍

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that enables a designated individual to take care of details including bill payments, investments, and choices about medical needs on behalf of another adult, should they be unable to make their own decisions. The person who creates the power of attorney, is referred to as the principal and the person assigned the authority of power of attorney, is called the agent, or attorney-in-fact.

How to get a Power of Attorney‍

Local attorneys are accustomed to handling POAs and will be abreast of state laws. There are do-it-yourself options available online through LegalZoom.com or RocketLawyer.com. However, without a licensed attorney, this type of POA will not be customized to address specific needs or state-specific regulations.

Primary Roles of a Power of Attorney‍

The power of attorney gives authorization to the assigned “agent” to make decisions for the principal, should he or she be mentally incapable of deciding. Many people opt to have two separate powers of attorney, one to take on financial decisions and the second to attend to medical decisions.

When working with a local attorney, the documents can be tailored to address specific needs, again the POA is a legal instrument that gives someone else authority over you, when you are no longer capable of making sound decisions, comprehending matters, or otherwise. Having this documentation in place sooner rather than later, created with a healthy state of mind is vital.

POA and Healthy Mental State‍

Life changing events can happen without any notice at all, and are more likely to occur with age. A stroke, an accident, the onset of dementia, or Alzheimer’s can have detrimental effects on one’s ability to think logically. With a power of attorney in place, matters can be resolved much easier. However, if proper planning is not done in advance, should a parent be diagnosed with dementia or have an accident that causes mental harm, an attorney can refuse to draw up the power of attorney paperwork.

Conversely, if a tragedy does take place and a POA is not in place, you must pursue the slow and expensive process of guardianship or conservatorship.

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Barbara Brown holds a master's degree in Interdisciplinary Gerontology from Bowling Green State University. She is passionate about improving the lives of older adults and helping them to thrive.