As parents or relatives age, balancing respect for their autonomy and independence against the potential consequences of their mental or physical health decline can be challenging. A power of attorney (POA) is one way to ensure that your loved one’s wishes will be prioritized.
In a nationwide survey, 90% of people said they knew they should talk to a family member about end of life wishes and power of attorney, but only 30% of them had. The most common reasons for delaying the conversation were: they thought it was too early to discuss it, it’s an uncomfortable conversation, the timing isn’t right, or they didn’t want to upset a loved one.
It might seem difficult or awkward, but if you don’t have the conversation you may not be able to honor your loved one’s end of life wishes. Below are some simple segues to start the conversation:
- If a parent mentions a family friend or relative who is in the hospital or recently endured a scary medical situation, consider asking your parent if they have thought about what their wishes would be in that situation.
- Ask your parents about their experience with their own parents end of life planning – what could have made it easier?
- Talk about a friend’s experience with end-of-life planning with their parents. This many open a door to talking about their own.
Introducing the power of attorney conversation can be the hardest part. It is likely that your parents or loved one have already considered their end-of-life plans and may have even put some plans into action that you aren’t aware of.
To help ensure the conversation to go smoothly, make sure you listen more than you talk. It’s OK to ask questions, but try to avoid voicing your opinion at this stage as it could lead to arguing or debating which could hinder additional dialogue.
Offering to helping with documents can make the process much quicker and smoother. When having the Power of Attorney conversation, make sure everyone understands the types of Power of Attorney and which roles they are assigning to whom.
General Power of Attorney is the most basic type of elder care power of attorney and is often referred to as Financial Power of Attorney. It covers a variety of tasks, including:
- Signing documents for the principal
- Handling banking matters
- Handling real estate in the name of the principal
- Paying bills
Medical Power of Attorney gives the agent the authority to make all medical decisions on behalf of the parent. This might include things like:
- Medical therapy
- Surgery release
- Medical treatments
- Whether to put in or remove feeding tubes
- Health care selection including senior living choices
- Organ donation
This is another important time to make sure your parent has granted you this type of authority before they are considered incapable of making this decision in their right mind.
Durable Power of Attorney allows the agent to make all types of decisions on behalf of the parent. This is often the most comprehensive option as it allows the agent to make all decisions on behalf of your parent or loved one no matter their condition or state of mind.
Limited Power of Attorney grants the agent POA authority for either limited decision making or for a limited period of time. This is not always the best choice as it must be updated every time it expires. A limited power of attorney allows a person to designate someone else to take care of specific financial activities on his or her behalf.
Springing Power of Attorney is sometimes a good option for those who may be reluctant to sign the immediate POA paperwork because they fear losing their autonomy. The agent doesn’t retain the power to make any decisions until the principal is declared incompetent. Only then can a springing power of attorney go into effect.
Talking about becoming power of attorney can be difficult, but the conversation is essential. Once the conversation has taken place and plans have been made, it is crucial that loved ones have access to the documents should a medical emergency arise. For the best counsel, we advise you to peak with an elder care legal professional who can knowledgeably guide you and your loved one through the process.