A power of attorney is a legal document that gives a third party, usually a trusted friend or relative, the right to act on a person’s behalf. The power of attorney can be limited to a specific task, such as selling a property, or can grant much broader rights. Power of attorney is particularly important for older adults who are living with dementia, as they may struggle to manage their financial and legal affairs as the condition progresses. It’s estimated that by 2030, there may be as many as 9 million American adults living with dementia.
In some cases, a power of attorney is a short-term arrangement. For example, a senior who’s in a hospital may appoint someone who is permitted to manage their affairs during their convalescence. Alternatively, a senior may feel confident managing most issues but may ask a representative to make decisions about a complex financial matter, such as the winding-up of a business.
Those who expect to be unable to manage their affairs for a longer period may appoint a durable power of attorney. This doesn’t expire and gives the representative the option to handle the senior’s affairs on an ongoing basis. The power of attorney can be limited to certain issues or can allow the holder to manage everything from arranging dental insurance to dealing with banks and other institutions.
Individual states can set their own rules on what activities powers of attorney can assign and how long the power can last. In general, if a senior gives someone power of attorney and then moves to a different state, the power remains valid.
In states where durable powers of attorney are permitted, that power lasts until the senior dies or chooses to revoke the power. These laws are complex and grant a lot of power to the appointee, so it’s important to seek professional legal advice before giving this status to anyone.