What is Power of Attorney?

    Your dad has struggled these last few months. His health on the decline — quicker than anyone anticipated — has sewn confusion, aggravation and dismay throughout the family. Who has power of attorney? What can they do? What can’t they do?

    His memory began taking the biggest blows several months back. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the doctors said, noting that while he’s only 63, it’s a particularly aggressive form of dementia. There’s little “hoping for the best,” they noted, but it would be best to get his affairs in order. Your heart sinks remembering how hard your sister cried that day.

    Now your family is stuck in a dilemma that extends uncomfortably beyond doing the most obvious thing first: caring for dad. 

    But who makes the decisions? Who carries that weight? He has assets that may not have been accounted for when he drafted his will at 55. When his time has come, who tells the doctors it’s time to say goodbye?

    Power of Attorney Gives Control in Uncertainty

    Thankfully, Dad did expect the unexpected. He allowed for power of attorney (POA) in various aspects of his life, should he be unable to make such decisions for himself.

    While Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease described in this fictional account may be exceptionally rare, rapid incapacitation of an elder due to dementia or terminal illness happens often. Every day, people receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, their ability to make important decisions becomes not only questionable, but impossible.

    A good life care and end-of-life plan must account for the unexpected and empower care partners in uncertainty. Above all, it should explicitly prioritize your loved one’s wishes in the end.

    End of Life Care

    We’re sincerely sorry if it sounds insensitive, but “pulling the plug” is discussed daily in end-of-life care scenarios. The doctors say there’s no bouncing back. Inevitably, conflicts arise as one family member says, “Dad would’ve wanted to fight” and another says, “Dad wanted to go with dignity.” 

    Medical power of attorney, or a health care proxy, assigns a person (or persons) to make that choice. It’s tough, of course, but a decision has to be made when a person can no longer speak for themselves — legally, mentally and physically. That’s why it’s important to have conversations early about end-of-life care, while the individual can coherently and emotionally express their final wishes. 

    Financial & Legal Decisions

    Sometimes your dying loved one has assets to distribute or protect, especially when planning for Medicaid. They may be considerable (stocks and trusts) or slight (family heirlooms and trinkets), but they’re all of equal importance. Power of attorney ensures someone is empowered to execute decisions regarding finances and property.

    But it’s more than executing a will. Before and even after a loved one’s death, financial and legal documents require verification. Financial power of attorney allows a designated person to:

    • Pay bills
    • Cash checks and withdraw funds
    • Sign documents
    • Trade stocks and bonds
    • Buy and sell property
    • Manage bank accounts

    The chosen agent has power to execute financial and legal decisions in accordance with the individual’s wishes or best interest. If funeral and burial ceremonies have yet to be determined and paid for, power of attorney also allows an agent to decide the necessary processes for dignified services.

    Power of Attorney: Execute Final Wishes with Confidence

    Your loved one’s final wishes may be difficult to execute. A variety of obstacles — from uncertainty to legal squabbles — can confuse and stall important decisions. You may struggle with balancing what seemingly remains of their autonomy, dignity and independence with what needs to be done.

    Power of attorney prioritizes your elder’s final wishes. It establishes authority of someone (or multiple people) to make decisions when it may be hardest to do so. Failure to act may result in legal conservatorship and guardianship battles that can stress families for years beyond the last breath.

    If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC has over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life care planning including hospice care and legal referrals. We’re happy to help you contact an elder law attorney and guide the process in a caring and compassionate way. 

    (Editor’s Note: Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC is not a law office. Maureen Rulison is not an attorney. The information contained in this blog is not to be construed as legal counsel or advice or substituted as such in any U.S. state, territory, locale or foreign state where it can be accessed. Rather, this blog is meant only to educate elders, care partners and families as to legal processes around life care planning.)