Suddenly Obtained Power of Attorney? Five Things to Do & Five Things Not to Do
The operative word here is “suddenly.” In reality, it is best for everyone, including banking institutions and physicians, friends and neighbors, if the chosen Power of Attorney and the loved one assigning that title prepare well before incapacitation. It is a tough word to accept – incapacitation – but it is the reason for a Power of Attorney. Together, they can talk to creditors, vendors, bankers and managers about current financial affairs and ensure that the current Power of Attorney documentation is proper and in order. This is, as you will read, exceedingly important.
In this ideal scenario, the POA (Power of Attorney) will understand all the responsibilities expected of him or her and readily access important documents, such as birth certificate, medical, bank, even passwords for online accounts and a list of bills that need to be paid.
So, what should you do if your new POA status is both sudden and without direction? Let’s begin with what not to do:
Five Things You Must Not Do When Named as POA:
- All POAs Are Created Equal – Do not assume that you have full legal rights to act on behalf of your loved one simply because you are named as POA. Each state has its own rules for power of attorney so be sure to understand how the POA applies to both you (the agent) and your loved one (the principle) in this legal document. Is yours a financial or medical POA? Both?
- No News is Good News – Not always. Do not assume that a non-response from a credit card or bank means you have been acknowledged as a POA. For example, there are stories across the globe in which a POA sends a certified letter stating his/her POA status for a credit card. A year passes and the POA (agent) is using the credit card to pay bills for the loved one. One day a mysterious bill shows up on the credit card and the POA calls to protest the charge on the account but is shut down because the POA status was never verified. Just because you are paying bills or withdrawing cash does not always mean you have been approved as POA.
- POA vs. Executor of Estate: It’s All the Same – Wrong! As POA, finances have been managed without incident but once your loved one dies, so does the POA authority. After death, it is the executor of the will who handles all financial and legal matters. If you do not know who the executor of estate is and/or if this is not mentioned in any legal documentation, do not wait for the probate courts to step in. Determine your legal standing as soon as possible.
- Do Not Hide Behind the ‘Power’ – be visible. Rather than online banking, go inside the bank for transactions. Talk to managers on the phone. Be present at meetings regarding your loved one. Let people see who you are and what you are doing.
- Don’t Overreact – Becoming POA is overwhelming, and one of the very first instincts is to begin throwing things out and shutting down accounts to better manage everything. Quickly get a handle on all financial transactions, but take your time wading through files and records that could be very valuable. If you are the agent for someone who has dementia, important documents can be in board games or sewing boxes. There is no rhyme or reason, only time.
Your First 5 Must-Do Steps as POA:
- File with County Clerk – The first thing you want to do is file your POA with the county clerk in the event the original is lost or destroyed. An added benefit is that the County Clerk will examine the original document and certify its authenticity and make and certify additional copies for you to use. And you WILL need multiple copies. Even if your state does not require this, be smart and proactive. File.
- Make a Legal Connection – If you only meet once, it is an important connection. Make an appointment with an attorney savvy in elderly care to hand over a copy of your POA and establish that attorney/client relationship you hope to never have to use. In a moment of crisis, you want someone you can immediately call. You can also contact eldercare.gov for free legal resources, or contact the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys at www.NAELA.org.
- Documentation Starts Now – Begin documenting everything. Create a timeline of when you noticed your loved one’s difficulty in self-care, instances of accidents and/or injuries, financial confusion, unexplained medical or legal issues. Note change in behavior and relations with friends, family and neighbors, putting a time stamp on everything. Just like your connection to the lawyer, in a moment of crisis, this information can be valuable.
- Be Inclusive – With the title of POA comes more unexpected not-so-happy surprises. There will be some resentment by others that you have been chosen to handle finances and/or medical issues. By keeping a ‘full disclosure’ attitude, including family and friends in decisions, it will strengthen the family, possibly prevent another family member from accusing you of taking advantage of the situation, and deter any miscommunication. Create your own circle of family and/or friends who act as unofficial advisors regarding money to keep everyone honest and open.
- Remember Your Title – As POA, what are you really? These are difficult times and it is so easy to forget why you have been given this immensely difficult task. You were chosen because you were entrusted to care for your loved ones medical and financial affairs, the estate, and their emotional well-being. Some days will offer up obstacles that seem impossible. Remember why you are the POA and fight on!
The reality of all of this is that you will discover many, many more do’s and don’ts as the newly appointed POA. No POA is perfect. Mistakes will be made. There is that old adage ‘if it were easy, everybody would do it’ that best sums up why this difficult but extremely important job has been given to you. It is, above all things, an honor. Stay vigilant to your loved one, include family in your actions, and never be afraid to ask for help for that is what your loved one has asked of you.
Alexandra Allred is the author of several books, including her latest, Operation Caregivers: #LifewithDementia. Allred holds her masters of science in functional movement for the special needs population. But her real experience in senior and memory care comes from the remarkable and difficult two years of losing both parents to dementia while fighting for their safety and dignity. Allred has been teaching Silver Sneakers and the special needs populations for nearly a decade, and has a special interest in those with Parkinson’s disease. In October 2017, the Alzheimer’s Association asked Allred and her family to serve as Honorary Chair for the 2017’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s.