What is Power of Attorney or POA? A Checklist for Parents

As parents tackle the task of estate planning for their aging parents, power of attorney is a key component. Here's what to have in order as you begin.

Power of attorney, or POA, is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to act as his or her representative.

And when it comes to the financial role reversal involved in caring for your aging parents, it’s something many parents in the sandwich generation come to know well.

When signing documents, the person designated as POA typically includes both names, adding “POA” next to their own.

There are five types of POA, notes Crossroads Hospice, which has locations in several states. Of those, durable power of attorney takes effect immediately and remains in effect until a parent’s passing.

“(It) leaves a person with full control of another person’s decisions should they, at some point, become unable to make them,” Crossroads notes.

It typically takes effect “when an individual becomes disabled or incapacitated,” it adds, and “expires upon its principal’s death.”

Timing and types

While we often think of POA as something needed later in life, the fact is anybody older than 18 can and should have one, notes caregiver website DailyCaring.com.

“Once you become a legal adult, nobody else is legally allowed to make decisions on your behalf or talk to doctors about your medical condition,” it explains. “With older adults, it’s more likely that a health emergency could happen. That’s why POAs are strongly recommended for all seniors.”

And typically, two types are needed: One for finances and one for medical matters. The reason, DailyCaring.com notes, is twofold: To keep things simple when you go to use the POA, and to keep private information – like health details – from winding up where it doesn’t need to go.

POA basics

Here is a list of information helpful to have before taking charge of parents’ finances, according to personal finance magazine, Kiplinger.

  • Estate-planning documents, including power of attorney for finances and health care
  • Location of safe deposit box and keys
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Names and contact information of financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, brokerage firms and insurance companies
  • Information about pension(s), life insurance and annuities
  • Names and contact information of financial adviser and tax preparer
  • Deeds to property and cemetery plots
  • Vehicle titles and registration

Legal help and updates

Planning for POA is important. If you’re not sure where to start, locate an established elder law attorney in your area.

Local elder care attorneys are also well-versed in state laws when it comes to legal documents, notes DailyCaring.com, and can ensure all that documentation is prepared correctly — ranging from the official state forms to advance directives for health care, Kiplinger explains, and other bank forms that might apply.

Keeping these documents updated is also important. Aging parents should “ratify and confirm the documents and (their) agents every few years” to ensure nothing is murky for family members. If your parent moves, be sure all the documents are valid in their new state, too.

Establishing POA before an emergency happens is key, DailyCaring adds: If this isn’t in place, it notes, “you may have to go to court to get the authority to handle their financial matters and make medical decisions on their behalf.”

This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly. 

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