One of the most common concerns I hear from people is “My older parent’s behavior is concerning me and I’m worried about her mental abilities.”
As I explained in a related article: it’s not always dementia but often it is. And unless an older person has done a good job planning ahead, it can be very hard and messy for others to intervene as needed.
But hopefully, that’s not yet your situation.
In which case, you might be wondering: Given that it’s so common for aging adults to eventually start slipping mentally — or to be suddenly disabled due to an accident or serious health crisis — what kind of planning should older adults and families do to avoid this kind of situation?
I’ve done some research on this question, and here’s what I found out.
One of the simplest — and often less expensive — smart planning approaches is for an older adult to complete a general durable power of attorney (POA) document.
Especially if the powers granted are broad — which they often are — a POA can enable the designated person (known as the “agent”) to step in and assist with finances, housing, safety, and anything else covered by the POA .
A durable POA allows an agent to take action once the older person is “incapacitated.” In California, such POAs can be used to move a person with dementia to a different living arrangement.
Now, the durable power of attorney approach isn’t perfect. Over the years, I’ve noticed that two broad categories of problems come up:
- Concerns as to whether the agent might be using the POA to financially exploit the situation
- Issues related to determining incapacity and whether the older person should be overridden.
In truth, I have occasionally encountered situations in which different doctors had different opinions on whether an older person was incapacitated. This troubles me, because agents should really only be stepping in and overriding older adults if we’re all sure they’ve lost capacity and are making decisions that don’t serve their overall goals, or are hazardous to others.
Still, a general durable POA is an excellent approach to consider. But I would recommend you pay special attention to how the document is drafted, in order to reduce the risk of financial exploitation and to avoid pitfalls related to determining incapacity.
In this post, I will share:
- What I’ve learned about general durable power of attorney documents
- Why determining incapacitation is often problematic in the real world
- Tips on avoiding a common POA weakness
- What to know about including third-party accounting and other strategies recommended by the American Bar Association, to reduce the risk of financial exploitation by an agent
- Useful resources I’ve found online for more information