It’s common for seniors to ask their children or caregivers to handle their financial affairs for them and deal with other practicalities such as arranging medical care. For privacy and security reasons, financial, legal and medical institutions require proof that those who are managing someone else’s affairs have their permission.
It’s a good idea for people to discuss these issues with their loved ones well in advance. Whether they’re a senior preparing for the future or a caregiver wanting to make sure their loved one’s interests are protected, arranging the required documents in advance gives everyone peace of mind. It also opens up the opportunity for conversations about medical treatment and end-of-life wishes.
Talking about ill health and end-of-life wishes isn’t easy, but it’s an important conversation to have, and it’s something that should be revisited occasionally so people know that they and the ones closest to them are on the same page.
Having legal documents prepared in advance means that people have the peace of mind that should they need someone to carry out important financial, legal or medical tasks on their behalf, they can do so. Without those documents, the law may decide that the duty of managing a person’s affairs goes to someone else, and that person may not be the one they expect or the one who knows what their wishes were.
There are several documents that people should prepare to ensure that those who care for them can assist in an emergency and ease the process of distributing their estate in the event of their death:
In addition to these documents, it’s a good idea to have clearly written accounts and to keep insurance information, bank details and other documents in a secure place that can be accessed by the person granted power of attorney.
When someone is incapacitated and hasn’t nominated a power of attorney, that power is usually granted to a family member based on criteria set by the state. Each state has its own rules for who should be given power of attorney.
If there’s no eligible family member available, medical staff are usually allowed to make decisions based on what they believe is in the best interests of the patient. If the issue in question is a financial one, then family members must petition the courts to be granted access to manage the person’s affairs.
To get help completing the legal documents listed above, people should seek advice from a local elder law organization. Area Agencies on Aging can provide directions to organizations offering free or low-cost legal advice for seniors.
The law relating to power of attorney documents varies from state to state. In some states, power of attorney documents must be reviewed and updated every five years to be valid. People should seek advice from a professional who is well-versed in the law in their state to ensure that the documents will be accepted in an emergency.