Have you thought about who will help you and carry out your wishes should you be unable to do so? Even temporarily? A power of attorney can ease your mind. And while many people assume that a power of attorney only goes into effect when someone becomes incapacitated, that is not the case.
“Having a power of attorney does not mean that you are not able to make your own decisions any longer,” said Julie Mallett, staff attorney for Legal Services for the Elderly, an organization that provides free legal services statewide to people age 60 and older. “It simply means that another person can act on your behalf also. You are, in effect, sharing your personal power with another person of your choosing.”
For example, if you are in the hospital, the person you have chosen to be your agent would have the authority to deposit checks into your bank account and pay your bills. The designated person follows your directions as long as you are capable of making your own decisions. This arrangement can be as short or as long as you need it to be. And it can be revoked at any time should your agent become unsuitable.
“There is also a durable power of attorney which is what we typically do at Legal Services, and it means that your agent can continue to make decisions for you even when or if you become incapacitated,” said Mallett. “The agent is still obligated to act in your best interest with regard to making decisions and using money or property.”
So just what powers does the agent have under a durable power of attorney?
“A power of attorney can be as narrow or broad as you want it to be. Typically, the agent has the authority to spend your money, cash checks and withdraw money from your bank accounts,” said Mallett. “The agent also can sell your property, enter into contracts on your behalf and can pursue insurance claims and legal actions. A person should give serious thought to who is chosen to be the agent.”
That the person is obligated to follow your wishes is no guarantee that he or she will indeed be a stellar agent. Once given the power, the agent really has free reign. So with that in mind, here are some questions to ask yourself before choosing the right person from the Legal Services Web site:
• Do I trust this person?
• Does this person understand my feelings and my point of view?
• Will he or she follow my wishes if I am ever incapacitated?
• Is this person available to visit me or to keep in contact by phone?
• Is this person knowledgeable about finances? If not, would the advice of experts be sought?
You also might want to choose someone who is very organized, as accurate records should be kept and made available to you upon request. The last thing you want is to have someone scrambling in a frantic search for your financial papers.
It is a good idea to think about this now because, should you become mentally incapacitated, you will not be able to choose someone at that time. To execute a power of attorney, you must be able to fully understand what you are doing and what the document means.
For more information on a durable power of attorney, contact Legal Services for the Elderly at 800-750-5353.
“We also offer power of attorney clinics in the area where a person can execute the document for free,” said Mallett.
Mallett will hold a clinic 1-3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Bangor House, Main Street, at the Meals for ME site.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail email@example.com or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.