Imagine you are incapacitated due to an accident or emergency. Imagine you’re recovering from a surgery or that you have developed the first stages of Alzheimer’s. Who will make your medical decisions when you cannot? Who will take care of your bills and finances?
Seniors can use a durable power of attorney to give someone authority over their medical and financial decisions. While this may sound scary, it’s reassuring knowing someone you trust will be able to make these decisions if you cannot.
Learn more about how a power of attorney can benefit seniors.
What Is A Power of Attorney?
In its most basic definition, a power of attorney gives someone else the authority to act on your behalf. This person is known as the agent.
Your agent can be anyone. You don’t have to choose a close family member. Whoever you appoint as your agent should be someone you trust to make decisions in your best interest and comply with your wishes.
You can have one agent or multiple agents. Keep in mind that multiple agents tasked to make the same decision may disagree. It may be better to spread the responsibility around and assign different agents to different roles.
It’s crucial to choose your agent before a need arises. Once you are incapacitated or deemed incapable by a doctor, you can no longer select an agent yourself. The court will appoint one for you. Courts often name spouses or close family members as agents.
Types of Power of Attorney
As a senior, you’ll likely want to appoint two agents. One for medical decisions and one for financial decisions.
- Medical power of attorney. Your health care agent will be able to decide what medical care you receive, what doctors you see, and where you live. They base their decisions on your wishes and are bound to follow any preferences you have stated on a health care directive.
- Financial power of attorney. This agent will have access to your financial accounts so they can pay for your medical care and bills, file your taxes, and manage your property. Many financial institutions will not accept the power of attorney unless the agent is also listed on your accounts. Be sure to check with your financial institution on their requirements. Your agent is not allowed to change your will or make financial decisions after your death unless you’ve named them as your executor.
Durable Power of Attorney
Seniors should make sure their power of attorney is durable. A durable power of attorney is best for health care decisions. It remains in effect if you are unable to manage your affairs or are deemed mentally incapable due to an emergency, coma, Alzheimer’s disease, or other condition.
A non-durable power of attorney ends the moment you are incapacitated. For most seniors, a non-durable power of attorney is counterproductive. When you can’t speak for yourself, you want your agent to have the ability to make decisions on your behalf.
When Do I Need A Power of Attorney?
Appointing a power of attorney and creating a health care directive are things you can do at any age. You can revise your medical preferences and choice of agent at any time. You can also revoke your power of attorney whenever you choose.
The sooner you start the process, the better off you will be. After a doctor deems you incapable, you can no longer complete, change or revoke your power of attorney.
Retiring or moving into assisted living are great catalysts for putting your medical preferences on paper and appointing an agent. These and other life events can prompt discussions about your health care preferences.
Every senior should prepare for the future. Completing an advance directive is one step you should cross off your list as you do so. As you plan, are you considering assisted living?