What’s a Durable Power of Attorney and How CanWhat's a Durable Power of Attorney and How Can It Help Your Family? It Help Your Family?

A durable power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that can make your family’s eldercare experience much less stressful. A POA can streamline your ability to make financial and healthcare decisions for a parent or relative if they’re unable to act for themselves. Too often, families only realize the value of a POA when it’s too late to create one. Sometimes they didn’t know a POA was an option, and sometimes they were discouraged by the myths about powers of attorney. Here’s what a durable power of attorney actually does, how it can make senior care easier, and when and how to get a POA.

What a durable power of attorney does

The details of POAs vary by state, but in general a durable power of attorney lets you name a trusted relative, friend, or professional advisor to serve as your agent in case you’re ever unable to make decisions for yourself. Your POA will cover only the areas of decision-making you choose, such as healthcare, financial, and/or real estate decisions. Although technically a durable POA gives your agent the power to start making decisions on your behalf right away—which is why it’s important to choose an agent you trust–in practice it’s designed to be used only when you’re incapacitated, to help with paying bills, accessing medical records, choosing healthcare treatments, and other important tasks.

What a durable power of attorney doesn’t do

Granting someone else durable power of attorney doesn’t take away your right to manage your own affairs for as long as you’re able to do so. A durable power of attorney also doesn’t force your agent to act on your behalf, even if you’re unable to make your own decisions—another reason you need to choose an agent you can trust to act on your wishes when it’s necessary. A durable power of attorney doesn’t lock you into any of the provisions you’ve included. As long as you’re of sound mind, you can revoke your power of attorney and create a new one with different provisions and a different agent.

When should you get a durable power of attorney?

The ideal time to set up a durable power of attorney is well before there’s a need for one. That’s because the document must be made before the creator becomes unable to manage their own affairs. If the power of attorney isn’t set up in advance, your family will need to go to family court in order to arrange to take over your parents’ decision-making responsibilities. That takes time you may not have in a crisis.

You can download some POA forms online, and they are valid as long as they are notarized and signed by witnesses (the rules may vary by state). However, because a POA gives so much decision-making power to your agent, it’s a much better idea to have an elder law attorney customize one for you.

A durable power of attorney isn’t the only legal document you’ll need to keep your life in order as you get older. Read more about other legal documents for seniors and how to select a reliable elder law attorney.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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