Whether we would like to think about it or not, the fact is that at some point in each of our lives, we may not be fully capable of making our own decisions. We could become incapacitated or simply less mentally and physically sharp, particularly as we age. To address this issue, many seniors consider signing a power of attorney that grants others the authority to make decisions on their behalf.
It’s something we see often here at BridgeWater Assisted Living. But before you contemplate signing a power of attorney (POA), there are some things you should know first. Here’s what seniors should keep in mind before signing on the dotted line.
The first thing to think about is the type of POA you want to execute. Here is a brief overview of some of the main types.
A general POA typically gives your assigned agent broad authority to manage your affairs, usually for a specified length of time. Since this type of POA generally ceases to be effective if the principal (the person who designated the POA) ever becomes incapacitated, it may not be the best option for those interested in end-of-life planning.
As the name suggests, this type of POA is usually limited to certain matters and is generally only used on a temporary basis. Like a general POA, the authority granted under a limited POA typically ends if the principal ever becomes incapacitated.
On the other hand, a durable POA remains in effect even after the principal becomes incapacitated. It can be all-encompassing, granting broad authority to manage the principal’s affairs, or it can be restricted to only certain types of matters. A durable POA may last until the principal’s death, or there may be certain conditions that, once met, would cause the POA to come to an end.
In some instances, you may only want someone to act on your behalf should you become incapacitated. A springing POA is a type of durable POA that allows you to remain in control of your affairs so long as you have the capacity to make your own decisions. Should you ever become incapacitated, on the other hand, this type of POA would “spring” into effect.
A medical POA gives someone else the ability to make medical care decisions for you. If you want to maintain control over other areas of your life but want someone else to help you make important health care decisions, a medical POA may be the best option. To learn more about medical POAs, look here.
In some cases, it may be a good idea to have checks and balances built into the POA. You could do this by appointing two people to act as co-agents so that no single person has full decision-making authority.
Keep in mind, however, that if you appoint more than one person to act as your agent, they may not always see eye to eye. In this case, it may be helpful to outline in the POA what the resolution should be if such a conflict were to arise.
You can also appoint a successor agent should anything happen to your primary agent. It is generally a good idea to name a successor agent so you have a contingency plan in place in the event your primary agent is ever unable to act on your behalf. You should also keep in mind that if you feel your agent is not acting in your best interests, you may revoke the POA at any time.
Since a POA expires upon the death of the principal, it’s not a substitution for a will. If you want to be in control of how your estate is distributed upon your death, you should make sure you have a will in place outlining your final wishes.
We can never know what the future holds. That’s why it’s so imperative we prepare in advance for whatever may come our way down the line. Since the laws governing POAs differ by state, be sure to consult with an elder law attorney before executing one.