Power of Attorney Time: My Family's Journey
When a parent is sick and unable to be reasoned with, there are a couple of things that are necessary to accomplish before the situation gets out of hand. Mainly, gaining access and control over their legal, financial, and medical situations. Everything from calling their health insurance to speak on their behalf, to major life medical decisions, requires a power of attorney (POA).
I would hardly call myself an expert on this matter but I discovered a few things in the nearly six months of figuring out the best situation for my father and family. Our major fear is that my father will take on a loan from an unsafe lender and plummet himself into further debt. Based on a few Google searches and conversations with people who have sick parents, the power of attorney document seemed the next best move.
My family's road to a POA
Day three into being home for the holidays, we went over finances and notice how little our father cares for us managing his finances. What really scared us was that we saw him continue to attempt making his own financial decisions to the detriment of our family, even after being explained to multiple times that we are taking over.
So the next day, we Googled POA templates for legal, medical, and financial. We had him sign them, my sister and my mother signed them and had them notarized for free at the bank (your bank should offer notary services for free). All set and done. Phew! We were in the clear. We believed this meant our father could not act independently on all matters but most importantly financially.
What a POA really means
We knew six months ago he needed the POA. Hell, we knew a year ago he needed the POA. We held off because we thought once he signed the POA he would be signing over his rights and we didn’t know if we were ready to make such a drastic move. As it turns out, we were very wrong about what a POA is or does.
The reality of a POA, as it stands in the State of Texas, is simply a document saying the assigned individual also has access and control over medical, legal, and/or financial decisions. This does not take away the individual’s ability to sign off on decisions. This means, regardless of the document, my father can behave as he wishes and decide as he wishes.
Limitations of the POA
Before I go any further and tell you what we decided to do as a family, let me first tell you a well-known secret I did not know. Someone on Medicare receives a few perks - a discounted (or even sometimes free) counseling session with an elderly care lawyer and an estate/trust lawyer. All you have to do is contact the counseling services and ask them to look up participating lawyers in your area.
Upon contacting the banks and notifying them about the signed and notarized POA, we were told the POA basically means nothing in terms of limiting his abilities which was disappointing to hear as the whole point of the POA was to limit his ability. So, time to take advantage of this discounted lawyer consultation.
Discovering another option
We called the lawyer and discussed the predicament. I came to know the only way to truly limit his abilities financially is to file for a conservatorship. A conservatorship is basically guardianship of your elderly parents. This means that a judge is publicly declaring a child has to care for a parent because the parent is entirely incompetent and unable to care for themselves.
Pretty big stuff. To publicly and legally declare someone is incapable of caring for their own wellbeing - this is not an easy decision to make.
Not yet ready for the next step
My father not only cared for our family but he has been self-sufficient since he was practically 10 years old. Even if we are there, how could we declare that for him? And besides the fact that this is the saddest and hardest thing to do to a parent, this would cost us anywhere from $5,000 - $10,000 which none of us have.
So for now, the POA is going to have to suffice. Conservatorship is most likely where we are headed but it’s gonna take some serious therapy and strength before we start that process.
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