There may come a time when your loved one will need help handling financial matters. Maybe filing taxes. Or interacting with Social Security. Or signing a contract to move into a new residence. If your relative is unable to do these things because of illness or problems with dementia, you will need to show a document proving they chose you to act on their behalf. This document is called “durable power of attorney” (DPOA). A simple “power of attorney” (not durable) is useful only while a person is able to make decisions. Incapacity voids it.
Under what circumstances. It’s important to discuss the potential challenges of the future while your loved one is of sound mind. Often a DPOA is signed to take effect immediately—with the understanding that the power won’t be exploited. Other families prefer a “springing” DPOA, which goes into effect only when a physician certifies incapacity. This limitation sounds good. In reality, though, it can cause delays and complications.
For how long. A person can revoke (change their mind about) a DPOA at any time, as long they are mentally competent. Otherwise, it is valid until death. Upon death, a person’s financial affairs must be handled by whoever was legally named as “executor” or “trustee” of the estate.
How to create a DPOA. Fill-in-the-blank DPOA forms are available online. Typically, they are signed with a notary who officially confirms the signer’s identity and free will. A notary may be available at your relative’s bank. Some notaries are “mobile” and make house calls.
Incapacitated and no DPOA. To take charge financially without a completed DPOA, you must be appointed by the courts. Not surprisingly, this is a lengthy process.
Consult with an attorney. Giving someone the ability to access bank accounts and make financial decisions is not small. Your loved one would be wise to get legal counsel before completing a DPOA.