Thursday, November 1, 2012

Durable Power of Attorney and Advance Directives

As your loved one is less able to care for him/herself, there will be times when you, or some other family member, need to help them with their personal affairs and decisions.  It is very important to consider the possibility of a Durable Power of Attorney while your loved one still has the capacity to make this decision.

The Durable Power of Attorney sounds intimidating.  But really, all it is is a document that gives another person the ability to act on your loved one's behalf, even if their mental state deteriorates.  For example, if you need to sign checks or otherwise access their bank funds to pay bills, a Durable Power of Attorney will show the bank that you have permission to do so.  If, along the journey, your loved one is not able to make decisions, you can act on his/her behalf and ensure that their needs are met.

This is also a good time, if it hasn't been addressed, to consider a living will for your loved one.  Five Wishes is a very thorough and thoughtful advance directive that you and your loved one can do at home.  Keep in mind that you should be as specific as possible.  My mom's advance directive specified that she did not want to be a burden, and she wanted to have a good quality of life.  First off, I would never, in a million years, consider her to be a burden, but also, how do I determine if my mom's quality of life is good?  Even right up until recently, she smiled, gave hugs, ate her favorite foods.....I wish I would've had more specifics as to what she would want if she was in the condition she is in now.  Five Wishes goes into those specifics.

A Durable Power of Attorney does have the potential to be abused, especially where a loved one's funds are concerned.  It would be best if some sort of accountability could be set up so that the rest of the family is aware of the state of the loved one's finances.  Elder abuse is very common these days, and often it isn't discovered until the elderly person's funds have been seriously depleted.

A Durable Power of Attorney will become more important as your loved one is less able to do things on their own.

In some states the Durable Power of Attorney will enable the designated person to make decisions about your loved one's health care, including termination of care and life support.  Sometimes this function is called "Health Care Power of Attorney".  Although assisted living/nursing home usually let the children make many of the decisions for their parents, there will likely be situations, such as a hospital stay, where that might not be the case.

Your loved one and family should consider all the aspects of this decision well before it is needed, because if your loved one is not mentally able to understand this designation, it won't be possible.

Forms to designate a Durable Power of Attorney are available on line, or any elder law attorney can help your family with this, also.

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