When and How to Discuss Power of Attorney with a Parent
No one gets excited about the idea of broaching sensitive subjects, especially with their parents! It may feel a little like role-reversal. However, it doesn’t need to.
Many who are caregivers to a parent, or expect to be in the near future, have to ask themselves at some point: When and how do I start the power of attorney process?
Hopefully, your parents have already thought about that and got the wheels moving. But, chances are if you’re here, that hasn’t happened. Many people need to be pushed to think about the next step in their lives, and power of attorney (POA) is one thing many people don’t want to face. No one wants to imagine a need for someone else, especially their child, to have to make end of life-decisions for them. Many times, parents do not want to be a burden to their family
No matter how uncomfortable it may be, power of attorney is something everyone should consider. It can help ensure a parent’s wishes get carried out (whether medical, financial or otherwise), and it can make their caregivers’ lives easier — by giving them a clear path forward should a parent become incompetent in any way.
(Note: If you’re not sure what power of attorney is, this article breaks it down in plain-English.)
When should the power of attorney process start?
With power of attorney, a person (“the principal”) chooses who they want to act on their behalf (“the agent”).
The principal needs to designate power of attorney before they become “incompetent.” This is the most critical part of the process – any question of their competency during the designation process can challenge legality of the power of attorney.
As a result, it’s very important to start the power of attorney process while your parent is still of sound mind and body.
The problem with this, of course, is that if your parent is healthy, it becomes harder to make the case that a power of attorney is needed.
But don’t wait for a parent to become ill to start the power of attorney process.
How do you start the power of attorney discussion?
Power of attorney can be a sensitive issue, so here are a few tips on how to begin the discussion:
- Designate a power of attorney for yourself, and share that info with your parent. Use your own planning process as a segue into discussing your parent’s plans. Just knowing that you’ve made plans, and have gone through the process and understand it, could provide the motivation your parent needs to get the ball rolling.
- Stress that you’re willing to abide by their wishes, but offer to help anyway. Some parents may feel threatened during these discussions, so it can help lower their defenses to let them know they have the freedom do designate whomever they want — and that you’re willing to keep their decisions private if they want you to do so.
- Ease into the discussion. Calling your parent out of the blue and saying, “We need to talk” can make them put their defenses up. The thought of being cornered into a difficult conversation can have that effect on anyone. As a result, it’s best to ease into the discussion. Don’t call special attention to the fact that you want to spring a serious discussion on them. Wait for a quiet moment when you’re alone — perhaps at a family gathering — to at least plant the seed that you’d like to discuss what their plans are for the future. (Tip: Involving adult grandchildren in the conversation can also lower a person’s defenses, as they may want to show their willingness to set a good example for their grandkids.)
- Bring the documents with you. By giving your parent the documents you lower a big barrier for them. It can also give them more time to familiarize themselves with the forms, so they can see the paperwork isn’t so daunting after all.
How do you get the power of attorney process started?
You can start the process by getting the forms. They can be provided through a trusts and/or estate planning attorney, and many can be found online.
The rules for how to officially grant someone power of attorney can vary from state-to-state, and you may not always need the help of an attorney.
For example, when there’s not a lot of money or property involved, you may not need an attorney to grant someone financial power of attorney.
But if there are a lot of assets, or there are complicated medical issues to deal with, it can be wise to contact a trusts and/or estates attorney.
Usually, granting power of attorney is part of a greater estate planning process. An Intervention Associates Professional Care Manager can help you get the process started and guide you along the way.