The health of an aging family member may determine the type of power of attorney she will agree to or is able to sign. A power of attorney is a document whereby someone known as the principal will appoint an agent or attorney-in-fact to act on her behalf. A principal often grants power of attorney to a trusted family member with a keen business sense so that she knows her affairs are being handled according to her wishes.
Elderly doesn’t always mean disabled, and many elderly people remain active well into their golden years. If your retired family member travels frequently, she may need to appoint an agent to handle a specific transaction, such as the sale of a vehicle or real estate, while she is away. A specific power of attorney allows the agent to handle only those transactions that are specifically described in the power of attorney. A specific power of attorney generally expires once the transaction has been completed.
A power of attorney with broad and sweeping powers is referred to as a general, durable power of attorney. This document allows the agent to perform most acts the principal could do herself if present. While a principal must be mentally competent at the time the power of attorney is executed, a durable power of attorney remains in effect even after the principal later becomes incompetent and unable to handle her affairs. This provision allows the agent to perform necessary financial transactions and other acts that otherwise might have required the appointment of a guardian or conservator by the courts.
A power of attorney that is signed while the principal is competent but doesn’t become effective until she becomes incompetent is referred to as a springing power of attorney. Under a springing power of attorney, the principal continues to handle all of her own affairs until such time as she has been ruled incompetent by the method described in the power of attorney. Often incompetency is determined by the family member’s treating physician. Some states, such as Florida, may not recognize the validity of a springing power of attorney except in limited circumstances.
Technological advances in the medical field have made it possible to keep people biologically alive through the use of life-sustaining equipment. Many people sign a medical power of attorney that allows one or more family members to make crucial medical decisions on their behalf, including the right to discontinue life-sustaining procedures, under the circumstances described in the document. The principal generally will discuss these intentions prior to appointing the agent so that the agent is fully aware of her wishes in the event she is unable to direct her own medical care. A copy of a medical power of attorney is often also provided to the treating physician and may be referred to as an advance directive.