If you find yourself caring for an aging parent you may find yourself in a position where important legal, medical or financial matters will need your attention. In order to carry out the wishes of your loved one you will need a power of attorney. A power of attorney allows a person to name an agent who will make important decisions on your behalf.
The person who gives the authority is called the principal, and the person who has the authority to act for the principal is called the agent. You can designate both a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney and a financial power of attorney are typically created in separate legal documents.
A power of attorney can take effect immediately, or upon a defined future event such as incapacitation due to an accident. If the power of attorney is effective immediately, it can be used even if you are not incapacitated. If its powers are limited to certain events they don't go into effect until a such an event has occurred. The most common event is the incapacity of the principal. Incapacity only occurs when the principal is certified by one or more physicians unable to make decisions. Incapacity can be due to mental illness, Alzheimer’s disease, being in a coma, or being otherwise unable to communicate. If it never becomes necessary, your agent may never use a power of attorney.
A general power of attorney ends the moment you become incapacitated. A durable power of attorney allows an agent’s authority to continue in the event you become incapacitated. There is no automatic deadline by which these powers expire. A durable power of attorney stays in effect until the principle dies or until they act to revoke the power they’ve granted to their agent. In most instances when preparing advance directives a durable power of attorney is advisable so that the agent can act in the event the principal is incapacitated.
Who should you choose to act as your power of attorney?
Most people choose their spouse, a relative, or a trusted friend to act as their power of attorney however you can designate anyone you want. Choosing a power of attorney is not about choosing the person you feel closest with. The person you choose should be someone who will represent your wishes as you have defined them. While your power of attorney may not agree with everything you want, it is critical that they are willing to follow through with your wishes even though they disagree with those choices. If you feel pressured to change your opinions, this is a sign that the person may not be the best representative for you. Finding someone who is willing to respect your wishes above their own is of the upmost importance and will provide peace of mind knowing your affairs will be handled in the way you choose.
Ty Strahl is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) based in Spokane Washington. Her job is to help navigate the many aspects of aging and to help seniors who are in transition to find the right solutions for their individual needs.