As children, we often see our parents as infallible superheroes. We assume they know everything, can answer every question, and can help us with anything we need. Once we become adults, we find out our parents didn’t know it all. And over time, as they age, we begin to realize that instead of them taking care of us, it’s our time to take care of them. This can be a big challenge, both logistically and emotionally.
Sometimes our parents, as they plan for the future, decide they want to set up a power of attorney who can care for them and take care of their affairs if they aren’t able to. Often they decide who they want to give that responsibility too — and maybe it’s you.
Struggling with understanding and coping with the responsibility of being a power of attorney? Here are some tips that can help.
What Is A Power Of Attorney?
A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that puts another person — called the agent — in charge of someone’s financial and personal affairs. This may involve getting bills paid, making medical decisions, and handling other day-to-day transactions for your loved one.
Generally, these are set up while your parent is still able to care for themselves. They are put in place as an “if I can’t do this myself down the road” type of protection. However, they can also be put in place if the courts find an older person incompetent of making their own decisions.
A power of attorney can cover just one type of decision-making, such as medical directives. This could involve making sure they attend essential doctor’s appointments, or it may only cover end-of-life care. A POA can also be broader, covering medical needs, financial needs, and more.
Either way, you’ll want to think carefully about whether you want to be named power of attorney if your parents cannot care for themselves.
Are You The Right Power Of Attorney?
Just because your parents want you to take the power of attorney’s role doesn’t mean you should. Before you decide, ask why they chose you instead of someone else. There may be underlying concerns you weren’t aware of.
If you’re not emotionally prepared to handle life-or-death decisions, or if you can’t devote the time it would take to care for your parent regularly, you might not be the right person. If you anticipate fights or legal battles with siblings or other family members in the future, you may not want to subject your own family to that.
Bring up your reservations with your parents during the conversation. There’s no shame in not being able to step in. Instead, suggest that your parent create a power of attorney with alternates. That way, whoever among those they trust that is the best able can take care of them.
Other power of attorney options include trusted friends, attorneys or other professionals, banks to handle financial matters, or a revocable trust.
How To Help Your Parents As They Age
Whether you hold official power of attorney or not, you’re likely to need to help your parents as they grow older. One thing you can do is make sure they get the medical care they need. If they struggle to drive or travel to the doctor, telemedicine may be ideal. This technology helped people keep up with their medical needs during COVID19.
Some people are happy to seek medical care, and others are more stubborn. It’s a good idea to talk to your parents about trusting you about doctor’s appointments while they’re still healthy — hopefully, there will be fewer conflicts later.
If your parents need more care than you can provide, in-home health care is a great option. Many types of insurance, including Medicare, provide at least some coverage for in-home assistance. A certified nursing assistant (CNA) may be exactly what your parent needs from time to time.
Finally, do your best to ensure your parents keep up with preventative care. For instance, they can be tested for pre-diabetes and make changes before it becomes full-blown diabetes, which helps them avoid many health challenges in the future.
Managing Family Conflict
As your parents age, you may find that family dynamics become strained, especially between you and your siblings. Some family members may not want to help at all, leading to resentment from others. On the other hand, a relative may wish to control everything and make life very difficult for the rest of your family.
It’s important to understand that the agent named in a power of attorney has some specific rights, but not unlimited power. The agent doesn’t have to provide information about the parent to family members, but they cannot bar other family members from seeing the parent. If an agent is acting in bad faith, family members can file a petition in court the challenge them. The court can revoke the POA and appoint a guardian if appropriate.
Once someone passes away, the agent’s work is finished. They are not automatically the executor of the estate. If an executor is not named in the will, the court will appoint one.
Working together as a family is ideal, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes a mediator can help, or siblings can create a family care agreement in advance to avoid conflict.
Care For Yourself As Well
Being named power of attorney is emotionally challenging because it forces you to face that your parents won’t always be able to care for themselves. It can also be logistically difficult if you don’t live close by or need to coordinate with other family members.
If you choose to take on this responsibility, be sure you take care of yourself as well as your parents. Caregivers need rest, proper nutrition, stress relief, and self-care to do their job well. When you take care of yourself, you’ll be in a much better position to help your family.