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Young at heart PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erin LeBlanc   

Choosing a Power of Attorney (POA)

Please read the story below—it may sound familiar.

Mr. “Smith” was 85 years old. He was a social gentleman, with a great disposition and a zest for life. He was active in many community events and always volunteering. He lived in his small, cozy home for more than 40 years, the last 15 after his wife passed away.

One winter day, Mr. “Smith” slipped on an icy patch on his way to the senior center and broke his hip. He was rushed to the local hospital, operated on and later transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he spent four months.

Although he recovered surprisingly well, his niece, who maintained Power of Attorney over Mr. “Smith’s” affairs, thought he should not return to his home and live there by himself. She began looking at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He was discharged to his home with 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week home care, and he seemed to be recovering well.

The social worker and the nurse from the agency that was providing the home care services both thought the arrangement was keeping him happy, safe and well. His niece, however, persisted and warned Mr. “Smith” his money would not hold for long if he stayed in his home, paying for home care.

Although his estate was quite comfortable, he did not control his own finances and legally couldn’t make any decisions since he empowered his niece to make all the decisions for him a few years earlier. Mr. “Smith” was ultimately moved to a residential facility—against his will. His niece promised to keep his home until he gave the OK to sell it.

He was extremely unhappy with the move, however, and kept calling his friends to assist to get back to his home. They couldn’t do anything to help him, however, except for calling his niece. She informed them her uncle’s home was sold and he didn’t have a place to move back into any longer.

What can you do to avoid that kind of situation?

Sadly we hear about situations like this quite often, and it is heartbreaking.

First and foremost, be extremely careful who you appoint to handle your finances. When you give Power of Attorney to anyone, first look at the relationship. Do you have a trusting relationship with him or her?

If you can no longer make decisions for yourself, what are your wishes, wants, desires and long-term goals?

In her book Making the Golden Years Golden, Dr. Eva Mohr, Ph.D., recommends evaluating carefully what restrictions you may want (if any) attached to the documents. If you are going to empower your attorney with the POA, Dr. Mohr suggests you consider having a different attorney write the document—one that represents your interests and has nothing to gain from this transaction except for the fee. It is wise to make everything revocable so you can change your mind.

A non-revocable trust may look good when you are 50 years old but may be too restrictive when you are 70 and locked into it, with options changing all the time with availability of services. If you establish a trust to provide for your financial needs in your senior years, make sure to designate as your trustee someone who will not be the beneficiary of the trust.

With that kind of structure in place, the trustee will have only your benefit in mind when making decisions that affect you. You may also decide to limit the extent of power that you give your POA.

For example, he or she can make payments on your behalf on things like bills and decide if any day-to-day purchases need to be made with your money but may not authorize investments or major monetary withdrawals.

Make sure your trustee or trustees, as well as your POA, are accountable to you. If Mr. “Smith” had limited his niece’s power over his finances, he could have remained in his home for as long as it was safe for him.

If you are not sure about your current situation (maybe your paperwork was drawn up many years ago) or you think you may need to update information, visit with your attorneys, and remember you are your best advocate!

Reminder: One way the Area Agency on Aging assists our older population to remain more independent is with the Congregate Meal Site (Meet and Eat) which is held Monday-Friday at the SunSet View Community Center at noon.

The number of attendees in the Holyoke area has dropped significantly in the last several years, and we are currently running the risk of some considerable cuts.

If you are 60 years of age or older or know of a friend/neighbor who is, please encourage them to come to Meet and Eat and give it a try. If you are not a regular attendee, please call 854-2646 and leave your reservation by 8 a.m. for the day you would like a meal. The answering machine is always on, so you can call any time before 8 a.m. to leave your message.

Erin LeBlanc, Senior Service Coordinator/Long Term Care Ombudsman for Phillips County, 970-854-2949.