Column

Fearless aging: Why you need a power of attorney

Jennifer Prell
Jennifer Prell

Let’s face it, no one wants to think about being in poor health, or worse, incapacitated, but reality dictates the longer we live, the odds of a long-term or catastrophic illness is inevitable. Planning ahead and making sure your wishes are clearly articulated while you are of “sound mind and body” is the preferred method.

One way to assure that you have order in your life during illness, disability or incapacity is a power of attorney. The power of attorney for health care and the power of attorney for property. Essentially the POA document verifies the person you are appointing to manage your financial affairs or make medical decisions on your behalf if you are disabled and/or unable to make decisions for yourself.

Verbal agreements don’t count

As a wise attorney once told me, “If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.” That said, the prescribed course is to secure an elder law attorney or your preferred legal counsel to begin work on a legal document that transfers decision-making power to someone you literally can trust with your life when you can’t do it for yourself.

The person you select as your “agent or personal representative” will have decision-making authority as outlined within the POA guidelines. As with most business transactions, your agent is responsible for maintaining accurate records of all financial or medical decisions made on your behalf. These could include bills paid, purchase decisions, operating your business or authorization of medical procedures and health care decisions.

In most situations, POA is assigned to a spouse, life partner, relative or close friend. Before appointing someone, it is prudent to have a conversation with him or her about your wishes, and determine if this responsibility is one they are willing to accept and that they will make decisions you’d make for yourself.

You can have multiple POAs. However, if the POA of property and the POA of health care don’t get along, there may be issues when it comes time to help with the decision-making process.

Who needs a power of attorney? Anyone older than 18 should have a POA in place. Today is the day to get started.

• Jennifer Prell is president of Elderwerks Educational Services, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization offering complimentary information, referrals and guidance to seniors and their families. For information, visit Elderwerks.org.

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