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What Caregivers Need To Know About Power of Attorney

Whether you are a senior enjoying independent living in Massachusetts or in assisted living, it’s important to make realistic plans for your future and your money. A power of attorney should be part of those plans. Illness and dementia are definite concerns that make it imperative that your family and others concerned know the financial status and have the legal authority to deal with your affairs.

Here is an overview of what each caregiver should know about the financial document called power of attorney.

Purpose of a Power of Attorney

In a nutshell, the power of attorney–often referred to simply as POA–is a legal document with the power to provide peace of mind to both the senior and his or her family. The family member or person designated is called the agent, and the senior making the designation is known as the principal.

As a senior, it allows you to choose a person to handle your money when you are no longer able to do so. In an emergency, the person designated as having power of attorney has the legal authority he needs to act on your behalf, ensuring that medical expenses (like a skilled nursing facility in Massachusetts) are paid.

As a caregiver or family member, a power of attorney means you don’t have to go to court after an emergency occurs in order to get the legal right to make the decisions. Going to court is time consuming and expensive.

Types of Power of Attorney

There are two basic kinds of power of attorney, differing in the length of time and in the extent of the responsibilities.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney: This starts right away and is in effect until the senior cancels it or dies. Even if she is incapacitated, it must contain specific wording that the senior wants it to say.

  2. Springing Power of Attorney: This begins after a triggering, or springing, event. For example, if the senior becomes incapacitated, this power of attorney springs into action. The wording must be precise for defining the event.

Responsibilities Conveyed by a Power of Attorney

The senior (or principal) defines what types of decisions the agent can make. It is can as simple as selling a car or as major as full control of her money. Common responsibilities include:

  • Accessing bank accounts

  • Selling of stocks

  • Managing real estate

  • Signing income tax returns

  • Applying for benefits on behalf of the senior

  • Making gifts to charities

The POA is a personal document, one the senior can customize to meet her expectations and wishes. And if it doesn’t turn out the way she wants, she can revoke it by tearing it up.

Always get expert legal help to draw up a power of attorney. Unless the language used is precise, what you want may not be what it says. Also, think carefully who to designate as the agent under a POA. You want someone you trust completely. Consider building in ways that check how your agent is doing, for added peace of mind.

As a caregiver, do you have any other financial tips for seniors and their families?

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