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Making the Right Healthcare Decisions on Behalf of Aging Adults

Updated: May 16


As your loved ones begin to age, mental and physical states may slowly start declining. This decline can lead to mismanagement of finances, loss of real estate or business assets, difficulty maintaining medical care, and the inability to oversee legal affairs. To prevent this from happening to your loved ones, you’ll wat to create life care plans that minimize the risk of abuse and maintain their overall health and vitality.

When creating life care plans, you’ll want to think about your loved one’s assets and how you, or they, plan to manage them. Assets typically fall under medical, financial, real estate, or legality. Once you’ve identified the assets you want to help them protect, you’ll then want to help them start the process of obtaining a power of attorney (POA) to help them maintain these assets.

A POA is a legal document that appoints a trusted person to act and manage your loved one’s assets on their behalf if they are unable to do so. Your loved one, the person creating the POA, is called the “principal”. The person selected to make decisions is called an “agent”.

So, let’s dive into a few different types of POAs and how they can help you and your loved one maintain the proper care and support needed.

General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney typically has considerable power over one’s affairs. They are authorized to act on your loved one’s behalf in all situations allowed by local law. This includes legal, financial, health, and business matters. Once a contract is executed for a general POA, the contract becomes effective immediately and they are allowed to exercise their legal powers right away. This can be useful when using a POA for business or financial purposes.

Although a general POA has power over most of one’s affairs, there are still some things POAs don’t have the power to do.

Limitations of a General POA

  • Enter into a marriage on behalf of the principal

  • Make changes to the principal’s last will and testament

  • Act outside of the principal’s best interest

  • Use the principal’s assets or finances as their own

Medical Power of Attorney

Medical POAs have the authority to make healthcare decisions on one’s behalf. This is considered a special or limited privilege POA because they can only make health-related decisions in accordance with what the principal has documented the POA to follow. These documented instructions could include care related to:

  • Medical treatments

  • Medication

  • Surgery

  • End-of-life care

  • Type of care doctors and hospitals can administer

    • Examples include authorizing the use of a feeding tube

You can choose which powers you want your agent to receive and when those powers go into effect. While a medical POA has authority over health-related decisions, there are a few limitations to protect the primary benefactor.

Limitations of a Medical POA

  • Hospitalization for a mental illness

  • Electroconvulsive therapy

  • Abortion

  • Refusing care to keep the principal comfortable

  • Change or invalidate the principal’s last will or other estate planning documents

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial POA is someone appointed to oversee one’s finances when they are not mentally able to do so. This would be another type of special or limited privilege POA as they are only able to act on financial decisions related to the principal’s money or property. For example, a financial POA may only have authority to:

  • Pay bills and expenses on behalf of the principal

  • Make bank deposits and withdrawals

  • Collect and manage retirement benefits

  • Sell or rent the principal’s real estate

  • File the principal’s taxes

Like the medical POA, financial POAs can only authorize decisions related to your loved one’s financial assets. They have specific limitations that protect your loved one as the primary benefactor.

Limitations of a Financial POA

  • POAs cannot transfer responsibility to another POA at any time

  • POAs cannot make legal or financial decisions after the principal’s death

    • This responsibility would transfer to the Executor of the Estate

  • POAs cannot distribute inheritances or transfer assets after the principal’s death

When to Appoint a POA

Don’t wait until after a situation occurs before appointing a POA. If you choose to wait until after an incident occurs, then you, a friend, or family member may have to go to court and file for temporary guardianship if your loved one is unable to decide for themselves. Generally, this process can be lengthy, expensive, and delay the care and treatment needed for your loved one.

How to Identify a POA

When seeking authorized POAs, most people will consult a lawyer to help walk them through the legal process. Lawyers can help identify valid POAs as well as provide guidance on how to avoid POA abuse. Given the fact that a POA may have complete control over your loved one’s assets, the risk of fraud and abuse is high. Hiring a lawyer to thoroughly vet your loved one’s POA candidates and the legal documentation can help in the long run. If you or your loved one are unable to hire a lawyer, look for free legal aid programs in your community.

Appointing a POA

When you’ve selected a POA and are ready to help your loved one draft a POA document, there are plenty of free online services to use that will create the document for you. After the document is created and approved by your state’s government, keep it in a safe and secure place that can also be easily accessed.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the principal has the final say in any decision regardless of the agent’s input. However, if the principal is intellectually incapable of making their own decisions, then a medical practitioner must deem the principal incapable of making sound decisions before the POA can override the principal’s decision.

Keep in mind that when the principal dies, the POA dies with them, at which point the Executor of the Estate becomes the primary decision maker.


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