Jan 18, 2023

Why do I need power of attorney for my senior parent?

Nat Miller

If you are helping manage the finances and or care of a senior parent, it is important to be familiar with the concept of power of attorney. Power of attorney is a legal concept that involves one individual (the “principal”) granting another individual (their “agent”) the power to do something on the principal’s behalf. As we’ve covered on the blog before, there are several types of power of attorney and a few steps you need to make sure you complete when either creating or ending a power of attorney. But before you get to making or modifying a power of attorney for your senior parent, it’s important to be aware of all the reasons why power of attorney may be useful to help care for your senior parent (reminder: it’s always best to talk about power of attorney before an emergency means you have to). While you should always consult a legal or elder care professional before doing something like signing a power of attorney document, the answers to the questions below should provide a good guide of why your senior parent might need power of attorney.

What is power of attorney?

As we’ve covered before on the Sunbound blog, power of attorney is simply the legal mechanism by which one individual lets another individual act on their behalf. While power of attorney is well known in the context of adult children helping manage their senior parents’ affairs, power of attorney can be used in a wide variety of circumstances. In the context of senior living, power of attorney is often granted to the adult child who is helping manage and pay the senior parent’s senior living community bill each month. In addition to helping manage their senior parent’s housing and finances, this adult child will often also be tasked with making care and other related medical decisions on their senior parent’s behalf, such as questions regarding treatment or recovery.

Why would my senior parent need power of attorney?

Generally, in the context of senior living and senior care, power of attorney comes in when a senior parent can no longer adequately look after themselves, due to age or illness, and requires another individual to step in and make critical decisions on their behalf, generally related to their financial and healthcare decisions. In many situations even if a senior physically still can handle their finances, it may be easier for them and their family for an adult child to take that burden off of their senior parent.

Power of attorney can help make sure that your senior parent is looked after should they become incapable of handling their own resources or finances.

That being said, while a power of attorney may only come into force upon the occurrence of a specified event - like your senior parent having an injury or illness - it is never too early to talk about power of attorney with your senior parent. By having a power of attorney arrangement in place you can make sure that, should anything happen to your or a loved one, their interests and wellbeing are looked after according to their own wishes and by someone they know and trust.

Who can be my senior parent's power of attorney?

In most states the requirements to be a power of attorney are very simple, generally requiring only that you are 18 years or older and of sound mind. In the context of senior living and senior care the person granted power of attorney is often one of the senior’s adult children. That being said, the choice of the best power of attorney will always be context dependent. If the senior’s adult children live far away, for example, a trusted friend or other close companion is likely to be a better choice of power of attorney to help manage a senior’s day-to-day affairs. At the end of the day, what is important is that your senior parent’s choice of power of attorney is someone who they know and trust, and who can act with your senior parent’s best interests in mind.  

What are common situations for power of attorney?

As noted above, there are many different types of situations that might call for power of attorney, from a limited situation like helping your senior parent sell their home, to a more broad-based power of attorney in which an adult child is handling all major financial and healthcare related decisions for their senior parent. While the exact scope of any power of attorney will depend on the unique facts of the situation, below are a couple scenarios in which your senior parent might find power of attorney appropriate.

Financial Power of Attorney

One of the most common scenarios in which a senior parent appoints a power of attorney occurs with a financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney generally allows the senior parent’s agent to handle basic, routine financial matters like paying someone’s living or medical expenses, preparing and filing their taxes, as well as applying for any public benefits for grants such as a public pension or Medicaid.

Medical Power of Attorney

Another very common scenario where a senior parent will require a power of attorney is in the case of a medical power of attorney. At a high level, a medical power of attorney will allow you to guide and direct your senior parent’s medical care.

A medical power of attorney will enable you to make decisions regarding your senior parent's healthcare such as who treats your parent or where they recover following a procedure.

For example, if you are your senior parent’s medical power of attorney and they require a procedure to take care of some sort of illness or injury, then you will be the person working with the doctors and healthcare providers to determine who treats your senior parent, as well as what kind of care they receive and where and how they will recover.

Durable Power of Attorney 

In many cases a power of attorney document is intended to protect an individual who, while they are currently able to handle their own affairs, may be unable to do so in the future. In order to prepare for situations in which a senior parent may suffer cognitive decline later in life and not be able to make their own decisions, many people will sign a durable power of attorney. While a regular power of attorney will cease to be in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated, this is not the case with a durable power of attorney where the power of attorney remains in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated due to injury or illness. This is why durable power of attorney is a great tool for families as it makes sure that there is a plan in place for their senior parent for any future medical emergencies. 

What if there is no power of attorney?

If you do not have power of attorney for your senior parent then it may be difficult to act on their behalf, requiring you (in some cases) to go to court to get an order granting you the authority to handle their medical care decisions or financial planning and management on their behalf. This can be a particularly big problem if your senior parent has a medical emergency that would require you to make immediate care decisions on their behalf. Without power of attorney, and without time to get an order from the proper official, it may be difficult for you to make important decisions on your senior parent’s behalf. Therefore, it’s always important for seniors and their families to discuss power of attorney and whether it makes sense to have a power of attorney in place.  

To learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior living more affordable for you or your loved one, send us an email at info@sunboundhomes.com or request more information on Sunbound. Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living and is on a mission to make senior living affordable for everyone.

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