Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The DURABLE Power of Attorney (POA)

As soon as you have noticed that your parent may become disabled in the near future (see your Reality Checklist), your next priority should be a DURABLE Power of Attorney (POA). This legal document allows you to act as your parent’s agent in all matters. If your parent is anything like my Mom, when you approach the subject, you might get responses like:
(1) I’m perfectly capable of handling my own affairs, and I’d rather keep control.
(2) I don’t want to talk about it. How dare you even mention such a depressing subject!
(3) Oh, don’t worry. I have a will in place. I intend to die on my feet (at my job, in my sleep, etc.)
And that was the end of that discussion.

What Does This Document Do For You?
Every practical discussion of eldercare stresses the importance of having some document in place that will permit you to take over if your parent becomes incapacitated. I lend my voice to these authors. Why? Because it’s crucial.

The DURABLE POA, written properly, permits you to:
• Write checks
• Manage your parent’s household
• Admit your parent to a hospital
• Make decisions about his medical care
• Access the safe deposit box, and carry out a host of other daily household activities
• Rent or sell your parent’s house
• Manage financial investments.

In short, it permits you to make decisions that your parent would make himself if he were able.

My Experience
It was in the Spring that my sister and I recognized that our mother's mental condition was failing. We began to gather information and knew about Power of Attorney documents, but did not make the connection to our situation until the Fall and Mom's emergency admittance to the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, I watched in distress as Mom tried to pack for a trip that we had taken long ago and directed me to find things in the hospital room chest of drawers that clearly would not be there. Her physician was certain that she had normal pressure hydrocephalus, a condition in which spinal fluid backs up into the brain causing damage, hallucinations and dementia. There were tests to perform and treatments he would try; there was a good chance she would recover her mental facility. But that might take as long as a year. For now, Mom needed help to make medical decisions, maintain the house and deal with her finances. I needed a POA.

I called my sister and Mom's attorney. By the next day, the attorney had a document prepared that we could use for both financial and medical decisions. Knowing my mother's efforts to be fair to both her children, the attorney suggested that my sister and I both be named as agents with an "either/or" wording. We could act independently but were expected to consult one another. Then he encouraged me to get it signed any way that I could.

I called the social worker at the hospital who said that Mom was actually lucid in the morning--between 10 and 11 was best. This morning improvement in thinking is common in dementia patients. The social worker agreed to be a witness for the document signing. I entered Mom's hospital room trembling with anxiety. If she really did not understand the document, then we would have to try other, more complicated options. If Mom got stubborn about something in the document and did not sign (as she had done in the past for other things), then we would not be able to help. Long, shaking minutes passed while Mom read the document and asked questions. I silently thanked God and everything divine that she understood what the document was and what its conditions were. Once assured that my sister and I held equal authority and that her attorney (a long-time friend) was in favor, she accepted the help of the social worker to hold her arthritic hand steady and signed her name.

If there is any way that you can avoid this kind of situation with your parent, believe me, you want to.

We'll talk about the POA over several posts, because it is one of the most important documents in caregiving. It will help your parent. Even more, it will help you.

Until next time, blessings on your caregiving!

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