Estate planning often gets confused with end-of-life planning, but the two are not the same. Your estate plan does not just protect your assets after you die—it also plays an essential role in securing your health and finances while you are alive. A power of attorney is just as important as any other document in a robust estate plan, and while everyone over the age of 18 should really sign one, they are especially important for seniors.
Understanding Power of Attorney
Power of attorney comes in two forms: medical and financial. The former protects your health, the latter your finances. Here’s what you need to know:
Medical Power of Attorney
When you execute your medical power of attorney—sometimes referred to as an advance healthcare directive—you designate a trusted loved one to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If, say, you are injured in a car accident and cannot speak for yourself, your medical power of attorney can step in and communicate your wishes. Their decision-making is constrained by instructions previously provided by you—for example, whether you do or do not want to be placed on a ventilator or feeding tube, etc.—which provides peace of mind, and reduces the potential for family conflict.
Durable Power of Attorney
Your financial power of attorney likewise allows you to designate a trusted loved one or advisor to act on your behalf should you suffer incapacitation. Here, however, the powers granted concern your legal and financial affairs. You can customize the authority you give your designated loved one, though it’s common to include access to your financial accounts for bill-pay purposes, the ability to manage property, file taxes, and apply for public benefits.
Why Powers of Attorney Are Especially Important for Seniors
Every adult needs to speak to an estate planning or elder law attorney to draft power of attorney documents, because nobody is immune to life’s unpredictability. A first-year college student is as apt to careen off the road as an aging grandparent, and both need to have their health and finances covered should this happen. Powers of attorney are especially important for seniors, however, as cognitive decline means increasing challenges related to decision-making.
If you’re an aging adult worried about dementia, it’s crucial that you sign power of attorney documents now. Doing so frees you to enjoy your golden years with the security of knowing you will be cared for, and your loved ones won’t end up fighting over how best to attend to your well-being. Furthermore, drafting power of attorney documents while you are of sound physical and mental health can prevent your loved ones from the exhausting and expensive court process of filing for guardianship and/or conservatorship later.
Take Our Healthcare Quiz to Discover the Real Importance of Powers of Attorney
People are often surprised to discover how different their and their children’s ideas are regarding medical care. It’s easy to assume that everyone is on the same page, but our Healthcare Quiz demonstrates that this is rarely the case.
Print out two copies of the quiz here, give one to your kids, keep one for yourself, answer the 12 questions separately, and compare results. Don’t be surprised by discrepancies, but do take this as reason to establish your powers of attorney now!
Reach out to the experienced elder law attorneys at Miller Estate and Elder Law by calling (256) 251-2137 or using the contact form below.