As a parent or relative ages, it can be difficult to balance respect for their independence with protecting them from negative consequences of mental or physical health problems. A Power of Attorney for Elderly Parents (POA) is one way to ensure that no matter what happens in the future, the priority will be the wishes of your beloved.

A POA is one of the most important documents for elderly parents but it’s one that many families have yet to prepare. Fortunately, setting up a power of attorney is relatively easy, and it can save you from future complications. Executing a power of attorney is an important step to take while your aging loved one is still physically and cognitively healthy.

Below we provide information about types of power of attorney, common reasons why seniors need them, and how to have a POA executed for your aging relative.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a document, signed by a competent adult called “the principal,” that grants a trusted individual the power to make decisions on their behalf if the principal is unable to. The agent is the person who acts in the best interest of the principal. It is the job of the agent to care for the principal, who, in this case, is their aging parent or the loved one.

Many seniors will execute multiple varieties of POA. An elder law attorney can help your aging relative determine the right combinations for their needs.

  1. General power of attorney

A general Power of Attorney for Elderly Parents is comprehensive — it gives a senior’s agent power to act on their behalf financially and legally. Healthy parents who want help with financial or personal matters can use General power of attorney.

This POA is also known as a financial power of attorney. It gives an agent power to:

  • Sign documents on the senior’s behalf
  • Open or close bank accounts, and withdraw funds
  • Buy and sell property, real estate, and assets
  • Trade and sell stock
  • Pay bills and cash checks on the principal’s behalf
  • Enter contracts for services like senior home care
  1. Medical power of attorney

A medical Power of Attorney for Elderly Parents — also known as a health care proxy or health care agent — is someone who makes health care decisions for the principal if they are unfit. It’s their job to ensure a senior’s wishes, as stated in their advanced directive or living will, are upheld in case of end-of-life care.

A medical POA only goes into effect when a senior is deemed incapacitated. The agent named is responsible for ensuring health providers follow instructions from the senior’s medical power of attorney documents. They also have authority over:

  • Release of medical records
  • Medical treatment
  • Organ donation
  • Surgical procedures
  • Feeding tubes and artificial hydration
  • Selection of home health care or senior living facilities
  1. Durable power of attorney

A durable power of attorney allows the agent to make financial and medical decisions through all mental and physical circumstances, unless the principal chooses to revoke it.

Even if the senior is in a coma, has experienced significant cognitive decline from dementia, or is otherwise deemed incapacitated, a durable power of attorney allows the agent to make decisions on their behalf. A non-durable power of attorney is void if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated, so it’s not recommended for dementia patients or seniors at risk of dementia.

  1. Limited power of attorney

A limited power of attorney is what it sounds like — a senior can give someone agency for a limited amount of time. This is generally stipulated in the document. For instance, a limited power of attorney could go into effect for a specific business transaction, like a real estate sale.

  1. Springing power of attorney

Seniors who want to maintain autonomy as long as possible may prefer a springing power of attorney. A springing power of attorney acts in advance but doesn’t go into effect until a senior receives a declaration of incapacity. However, this decision could lead to complications and delays down the road. Medical evaluations related to determining incompetence can be costly and time-consuming and are subject to legal conflicts.

6 common reasons for seniors to consider a power of attorney

A POA grants a chosen relative or friend the ability to make decisions when a parent or grandparent is either unwilling or unable. Below are six reasons seniors may feel it is time to set up a power of attorney:

  1. Financial responsibilities

    If your aging relative has a hard time staying on top of financial obligations, or is in danger of overspending their savings, it may be time to establish a financial power of attorney. Check for overdue bills, duplicate checks, and fraudulent requests for funds.

  2. Medical diagnosis

    A senior with a terminal diagnosis may want to establish a power of attorney. This is to ensure their wishes are met when they become incapacitated or too sick to make health care decisions.

  3. Planned travel

    At times, a POA is established out of convenience, rather than medical necessity. If seniors are traveling in retirement, they may want someone at home able to cash incoming checks and handle bills.

  4. Alzheimer’s disease

    It is vital to set up durable power of attorney for an elderly parent with dementia before they experience significant cognitive decline. Since it can prove to be difficult to execute legal documents once a senior becomes mentally unfit.

  5. Upcoming surgery

    Invasive surgeries can lead to complications. A power of attorney ensures to respect the wishes of the senior in case of emergency.

  6. Unstable family relationships

    It’s common for adult children to fight about a parent’s care especially if they disagree about finances or end-of-life decisions. A power of attorney clearly designates who is responsible for upholding the senior’s wishes and can block ill-intentioned family members from intervening.

How to select a power of attorney for an elderly relative

Choosing an agent is often one of the most time-consuming parts of the process, since the seniors need to ensure the consideration of their best interests. Below are five questions to consider when selecting an agent for a senior’s power of attorney:

  1. Is a family member the best choice?

    Many seniors select a relative as POA by default. This can cause conflict and may not be the best choice if there remains a difficulty in the family relationship. An advisor, close friend, or professional proxy can all be safe alternatives.

  2. Is there a knowledgeable option?

    Someone familiar with medical procedures and treatments may be able to make better decisions as medical power of attorney; someone with experience in accounting would be an ideal financial or general power of attorney.

  3. Will the agent be able to carry out the senior’s wishes?

    The top responsibility of a POA is to comply with the senior’s directives. Sometimes, this is emotionally difficult. For example, a spouse may struggle with making the decision to end life support, even if it is what their partner wanted.

  4. Should power of attorney be split?

    A senior can choose one agent for general power of attorney and another for medical power of attorney. Or they can choose multiple agents for both. If there are multiple agents who disagree, this can lead to a holdup in the decision making.

  5. Who does the senior trust?

    A power of attorney agent should always put the needs and well-being of the senior first. Trust is imperative when selecting an agent. 

At times adult children can feel hurt or jealous knowing their parent has given a sibling POA. A family elder planning meeting can be a forum to discuss choices and help people begin to accept them.

When and how should a senior set up a power of attorney?

Now is the time to talk about a POA

Experts recommend establishing a Power of Attorney for Elderly Parents before they need it — especially if they have received a concerning diagnosis. Patients diagnosed with early-stage dementia should set up a power of attorney before the disease progresses.

Contact an elder law attorney

While many do-it-yourself power of attorney forms are available, it is a good idea to have a lawyer draft one tailored to your family’s needs. There are many issues to consider, and one size does not fit all. Here are four common scenarios an elder law attorney can help address:

  • Springing power of attorney:

    If the power of attorney is springing, it is important that the document clearly mentions the method of determining incapacity. Otherwise, the need to determine incapacity can cause delays and extra expense.

  • Appointing a guardian: 

    Usually, if guardianship proceedings become necessary, the court will appoint a guardian for a senior However, if a lawyer has nominated a guardian in the durable power of attorney, the court will usually honor that nomination.

  • Executing the power of attorney: 

    Requirements for power of attorney differ between states. A local estate planning attorney or elder law attorney can ensure that the POA is executed properly.

  • Bank acceptance: 

    Due to potential legal consequences, some banks and other institutions are hesitant to accept a power of attorney, even if it is executed correctly. Banks may have their own standard power of attorney forms for you to sign. An elder law attorney can ensure any documents you sign with a bank match the original power of attorney.