What if one morning you woke up too physically weak to arise from the bed or so mentally disoriented that you couldn’t put thoughts together and communicate coherently? If the natural aging process ultimately robs you of your independence, would your interests be protected?
As more Americans are living longer, many of us face increasing health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease. For example, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds? Believe it or not, deaths from heart disease have actually decreased over the past ten years while deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia have increased 145%, affecting one in every three seniors.
One way to prepare for a time when you might not be fully independent is a power of attorney (POA). This legal document acts as a kind of permission slip to give someone that you trust the authority to make decisions on your behalf. You can authorize your agent to act on your behalf immediately or choose to trigger authority upon your subsequent incapacity. Either way, this document can save substantial time, money, frustration, and embarrassment. To avoid common mistakes, here are a few things to keep in mind when creating powers of attorney.
Don’t wait to create POAs
While a heart attack or stroke can strike at any time, dementia develops slowly over many years. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s can start 20 or more years before the first symptoms become apparent.
You can only sign a POA if you are legally competent, so don’t wait to put one in place. A diagnosis that you suffer from some form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t prohibit you from signing a POA as long as you can still understand the significance of the document and the consequences of signing it.
Avoid “Do it Yourself” Forms
To save time and money, people often choose to use a power of attorney that has been downloaded from the internet. This is a recipe for disaster that can have lasting consequences for you or a loved one, especially if long-term care Medicaid or VA planning might someday be needed. An experienced attorney can help avoid those consequences by:
Tailor your POA to your needs. A power of attorney should represent the specifics of your unique circumstances. Generic internet forms are often ambiguous and lacking in needed specificity, leaving financial institutions unwilling to honor them and associated litigation more likely. Occasionally, forms sold generically across state lines aren’t legally valid under a given state’s laws of agency, but by the time this is discovered, it might be too late.
Choose the right forms. There are different types of POAs for different needs. When people try to create POAs on their own, it’s easy to use the wrong form mistakenly. For instance, if you need Medicaid planning to help cover the costs of nursing home care, a special Medicaid power of attorney is required. Otherwise, you could wind up losing out on benefits that can help cover the staggering costs of long-term care.
Make sure execution tracks state law. Another frequent problem with DIY powers of attorney is that they are signed improperly. A power of attorney form must be signed by the correct people at the correct points in the document, and these requirements can differ by state. Without the correct signatures, your POA can end up being useless when it is really needed.
Sadly, when issues with POAs are discovered, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. Once you or your loved one are already incapacitated, the only recourse which remains is the pursuit of a conservatorship through a lawsuit filed in probate court. This process can be costly, time-consuming, emotionally draining, and even embarrassing because it requires public discussion of highly personal matters.
Taking control of your future
A POA is a lot like a parachute – if you don’t have it when you need it, it’s too late. Having strong financial and medical powers of attorney in place can save you and your family endless heartache down the road by ensuring that someone trusted will be in a position to act when necessary. Please get in touch with us anytime to help make sure your POAs are set up correctly.