A power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal document giving one person (the “Agent” or “Attorney-in-Fact”) the power to act on behalf of another person (the “Principal”). The Agent can have broad or limited authority to make legal decisions about the Principal's financial affairs, assets, or medical care. A POA is one of the most important documents to have in place for families dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
People often put off executing a POA, thinking that it involves a very complicated process. In fact, executing a POA is fairly simple. For some folks, a standard POA form that can be downloaded for free will even suffice. However, in most cases, consulting an elder care attorney is recommended in order to ensure that the Principal’s wishes are properly spelled out. Depending on your specific circumstances, a qualified attorney might recommend one or more various types of POA documents.
Families dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s often choose to appoint one person to handle finances through a financial POA and another person to handle health care matters through a medical POA. The financial POA gives the Agent the power to pay bills, cash checks, enter contracts, open and close accounts, and buy and sell property on the Principal’s behalf. The medical POA, also referred to as a health care proxy, gives the Agent authority over selection of health care facilities, medical treatment, and surgical procedures. A medical POA is typically accompanied by a living will or advanced directive, which is another document that spells out the Principal’s wishes with regards to health care options and end-of-life care preferences.
One of the most important, and perhaps the most difficult aspect of executing a power of attorney document is choosing the person or persons to act as Agent(s). It’s important to take into consideration the prospective Agent’s skill set and whether he or she will have the needed time to commit to fulfilling their responsibilities. It’s also important to consider any family dynamics that might come into play. Executing a POA with one family member can sometimes result in conflict from other family members. While most seniors end up choosing a family member to act as Agent, close friends or professional advisors are sometimes good alternatives.