Power of Attorney


4 min read

Power of Attorney


Caregivers and Family Paying for Senior Care

While you’ve probably heard of a Power of Attorney, nearly 20 percent of older adults don’t have one in place. When you’re in good health, the idea of handing someone else the reigns to your life can feel unnecessary or even unwise. But a POA isn’t intended for times when things are going perfectly, rather for when you need help the most. Read on for answers to some common POA questions from the National Council on Aging and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There just may come a time that you and your loved ones will be happy you have one—or wishing you did.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney (or POA) is a legal document that enables you to assign another person, called an agent, control over your finances and healthcare decisions in the event you are not able to handle your own affairs.

Why do I need one?

Without a POA, it can be a lot harder for your loved ones to help you get the care you need and keep your affairs in order. Everything from paying utility bills to dealing with insurance companies to applying for financial assistance like veteran’s benefits or Medicaid requires a POA if you are unable to complete those tasks yourself. The alternative is the often lengthy, pricey and potentially messy process of obtaining a court-appointed guardian.

What are the different kinds of POAs?

There are three commonly used types of POAs: Medical, financial and general. The first two are both types of limited POAs. Their authority is limited either to healthcare decisions such as elective surgeries, long-term care placement, end-of-life options and organ donation (a medical POA) or to financial matters, including opening and closing accounts, managing investments, paying bills and engaging in transactions (a financial POA). A general POA is a sort of combination of the other two: It grants authority over both medical and financial decisions. While a general POA assigns just one agent, you may select more than one agent if you choose to have more than one limited POA. For example, you may select your son as medical POA and your daughter as financial POA, depending on their strengths.

When is a POA enacted?

It depends on the duration you select. There are three options: A durable POA is effective immediately; a non-durable POA takes effect at a future time that you specify within the document; and a springing POA takes effect only once you are declared by a medical professional to be incapacitated. Unless you select a durable POA, your agent will have no authority until the POA is enacted—either by a doctor declaring you mentally or physically incompetent (in the case of a springing POA) or at the precise time specified by you (if you select a non-durable POA).

How long does it last?

Durable and springing POAs expire upon your death. If you select a non-durable POA, you may specify an earlier expiration date, up until your death.

When should I get one?

The sooner the better. A person can only sign a POA if they are considered legally competent to do so. A sudden illness, injury or dementia that renders a person incapable of understanding the document can in some cases quickly change their competency status.

Can I change it?

Yes. You may revoke your POA and create a new one at any time.

How do I get started?

Online services such as LegalZoom can assist with creating a POA for a fee starting around $35. An attorney may charge $300 or more to draft one, though you may be eligible for free legal aid. To find assistance or a reputable attorney, see the federal government’s Eldercare Locator or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

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