As a person ages, they likely begin to think about having their affairs in order and how they would like to be cared for near the end of their lives. There can be all sorts of paperwork to complete, including a Power of Attorney (POA). However, many people are unclear about what a POA is and why it might be necessary. As a caregiver, knowing more about POAs can help you to assist your parent in deciding if one is needed.
What is a POA?
A POA is a legal document that gives a selected person, called an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact,” to make certain decisions for the older adult should they be unable to make them. Sometimes the older adult selects their primary caregiver as their agent, but it can be anyone they choose. State laws about creating a POA vary, so you may need to speak with a lawyer.
There are different kinds of POAs. Some of them are:
General Power of Attorney: This kind of POA gives the agent a broad range of abilities. It allows them to make decisions about financial matters, handling claims, purchasing insurance, and a number of other things. This kind of POA is usually involved in estate planning.
Special Power of Attorney: The older adult can specify exactly what kinds of decisions the agent can make for them.
Health Care Power of Attorney: With this POA, the older adult gives the agent the right to make medical decisions for them if they are incapacitated. Caregivers should be aware that this is not the same as a living will, which specifies how to handle end-of-life care, including whether they want to be put on life support.
When Should a POA Be Set Up?
Sometimes families don’t think about POAs until their aging relatives become incapacitated. Unfortunately, when that happens, it may be too late. Your parent needs to sign the POA while they are still mentally competent.
Although it can be difficult to discuss, caregivers and their aging parents should learn as much as possible about POAs and other kinds of end-of-life planning. Sometimes hospitals, senior centers, and other organizations offer free seminars where you can learn more. The local hospital may also employ staff members who can advise you and your parent on such matters. Your parent’s church may also have resources available be able to direct you to agencies that can assist. Even after you’ve learned what you need to know and your parent has made decisions, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney before signing any paperwork.