Durable Power of Attorney Increasingly Important for Aging Parents

As we see the aging of our parents, we are grateful for so many advances in caring for the physical wellbeing of them. Certain cancers, heart disease and broken bones are no longer a death sentence to the aging parent. However, with longer life comes deterioration of the mind, a mental decline that medicine has not yet found a way to cure.

The increase of dementia and Alzheimer’s are leaving us with parents that may lack memory, have increased paranoia and have a great vulnerability to manipulative people.

Even those who were the rock of the family may now be susceptible to many schemes by people that may call or come to the door. One day you may realize your parent’s bank account has been depleted to win a contest in a foreign country, to purchase thousands of dollars of trinkets by mail and the list goes on.

With dementia, the ability to discern fact from fiction declines. Also, memory often declines significantly. What is commonly seen is an increase in paranoia for their loved ones and total trust in strangers.

The first step to ensure the protection of your aging loved one is to ask that they execute advanced directives. These documents name the person they would trust to make financial and health care decisions for them. In Florida, the most commonly used documents for those purposes are the Durable Power of Attorney the Health Care Surrogate. The Health Care Surrogate will be discussed in another article.

The Durable Power of Attorney names an agent to step into the shoes of the principal to allow them to make almost all the decisions as if they were that person. It names the agent as the person to take charge of bank accounts, buy and sell property, apply for government benefits and even make gifts, if indicated. The powers are sweeping.

This document must be executed when a person is competent so that they have exercised their own will as to who should make decisions for them. In Florida, a Durable Power of Attorney is effective upon execution. This means that once the document is signed, the agent can immediately take all measures as stated in the document, whether or not the principal is incapacitated.

A photocopy is the same as an original. The document is most effective if the agent is clearly one with a trustworthy, responsible relationship with the principal. The drawback with this document is that the principal can revoke the power at anytime in writing and name another person. If the principal is irrational, this period of time is rife with opportunities for others to take advantage of them. If the principal is uncooperative with the agent or others are exercising too much negative influence over them, a court ordered guardianship might be the only option to ensure protection of the family member.