Powers of Attorney are for Every Adult

A friend of mine who is also in the Senior Services field has heard me speak several times about the value of Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives for adults of every age.  While we tend to think of them as a way to assist seniors with declining capacity, any adult, at any age, may need to have someone make his or her decisions for her.   Father’s Day is a good day to  be reminded that just being that young adult’s father (or mother) does not give you the legal authority to serve in that role.

Last week, I was gratified to find out that my friend had not only heard me express this view, but was actually listening!  Among the items on the checklist for his recent college grad who was getting ready to move out of state to start his career was coming to see me to sign a General Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and Living Will, in which he identified his parents as his attorneys-in-fact if he was unable to make or express decisions on his own.

My friend told me that his wife had argued that the documents weren’t necessary because, of course, other parties would listen to the parents.  Unfortunately, this is most often not the case.  Arizona, like many states, has a law that sets the priority for who will be consulted about end-of-life decisions if an individual is not able to express himself and hasn’t identified an agent.   However, not all states have a law like this.  And what if the parents are divorced, or don’t see eye-to-eye?   The medical service provider would then make the decision on its own or be  forced to go to Court.

Even when there is a law to address some medical decisions, there is nothing like that to allow a parent to serve as her child’s agent for financial or contractual issues.  If bank accounts need to be accessed, or if leases, loans or other contracts need to be re-negotiated during a long illness – even if you want to terminate the premium cable contract – a third party has no authority to do so, unless he has been appointed in a power of attorney. That parent or sibling would have to go to Court to be appointed as a Guardian or Conservator, so that her authority to act for the incapacitated adult would be recognized.

There is one more benefit to encouraging young adults to complete powers of attorney that you won’t find in most law books. In my Elder Law practice, I find that encouraging an older adult who is beginning to lose capacity to execute her Powers of Attorney for the first time is often viewed as a threat.  Especially if an individual with dementia is feeling paranoid, which is a very common symptom of the disease, she may feel that you are telling her that she is losing control,  or that you want to take over her life.  But if completing and updating Powers of Attorney has been a lifetime habit, like adjusting your financial plan or going to the dentist, that elderly adult may have no problem at all making changes in those documents, or – better yet – may not need to do so.

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