You may not realize you need a power of attorney to act on your spouse’s behalf until after he becomes mentally incapacitated, but mental competency is a key requirement for a legal power of attorney. If your spouse is no longer competent, he cannot sign a power of attorney, and you may need to obtain court permission to act on his behalf. If the Department of Veterans Affairs has already determined your spouse is not competent to handle his financial affairs, a fiduciary will be appointed for him.
Types of POAs
While your spouse is competent, he can create a power of attorney to give you authority over his finances. He can grant broad authority for you, his agent, to access all his accounts or limited authority to access one account. Your spouse can also give you authority to make health care decisions for him. Typically, a durable health care power of attorney is executed while the signer is competent, but may be used if he becomes incompetent and cannot make his own health care decisions.
To sign either type of power of attorney, your spouse must be mentally competent. That is, he must be able to fully understand his financial obligations and the authority he is granting under the power of attorney. He should also be able to explain to whom he is granting authority and even why he chose that person. If your spouse isn’t able to indicate his competence at the time of signing, he cannot legally sign the power of attorney document.
If your spouse’s incapacity is permanent, your only option may be to apply for a conservatorship -- also called a guardianship of the estate. State laws on conservatorships vary, but a conservatorship usually means you are appointed by the court to manage your spouse’s affairs because he cannot take care of them himself. Generally, you must file a petition with the probate court where your spouse lives and provide evidence, such as testimony from a doctor, that proves your spouse is incapacitated. Once the court is satisfied that a conservatorship is in your spouse’s best interests, it may appoint you as conservator.
If the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs believes your spouse is not competent to manage his financial affairs, they will not pay benefits directly to him. Instead, they will appoint a “fiduciary” for your spouse; the fiduciary will receive benefit payments on behalf of your spouse and make sure the money is used to support him and pay his debts. The VA prefers to appoint family members as fiduciaries for incompetent beneficiaries, so you may volunteer to be appointed for your spouse.