For purposes of this blog, I will use the terms “parent” and “child.” However, what I describe below is applicable to anyone who is named as POA for any other person. This could be your parent, an aunt/uncle, grandparent, sibling, or friend. I will also reference “mother” and “father” but appreciate that this obviously can apply to same-sex relationships as well.
For many, it can come as a shock when they visit their parents and notice a decline in their physical and/or cognitive capabilities. At first it may be subtle, and something that they can easily push out of their mind and unintentionally ignore. However, there will come a time when they can’t ignore the signs.
Unfortunately, some people either ignore the warning signs for too long, or their parents are so good at hiding what is happening, that it is too late to adequately intervene.
“Too late” means that a parent has declined so far that they are now mentally incapable and therefore unable to make the decision to retain a lawyer to draft a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property, Power of Attorney for Personal Care and/or a Last Will & Testament.
There are then two scenarios to consider:
- Your parents did have POAs drafted and now you are at the point where you feel you need to exercise your rights as Power of Attorney under those specific POAs.
- Your parents did not have POAs drafted and you feel that you need to be involved in their personal care and property/asset maintenance and don’t know how to accomplish that without a POA.
This blog post will focus on Scenario #1. Scenario #2 will be addressed in a subsequent post, so stay tuned.
How about some definitions to get us started? The Ministry of the Attorney General defines POAs as follows:
- A Continuing Power of Attorney for Property (CPOA) covers your financial affairs and allows the person you name to make decisions for you even if you become mentally incapable.
- A non-continuing Power of Attorney for Property covers your financial affairs but can’t be used if you become mentally incapable. You might give this Power of Attorney, for example, if you need someone to look after your financial transactions while you’re away from home for an extended period.
- A Power of Attorney for Personal Care (POAPC) covers your personal decisions, such as housing and health care.
For much more specific info, visit the Ministry’s website for details.
This blog will not address a Non-Continuing Power of Attorney, but 1 and 3 (as above) will be addressed below.
Scenario #1 - My parent(s) assigned me as their Power of Attorney, and I think it’s time to use it
Let’s assume that your mother has passed away or is divorced from your father, and we are focused on the care of him alone. Your father never remarried and does not live with anyone else. You are the oldest of three children. Your father had a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property and Power of Attorney for Personal Care drafted two years ago. He appointed you as his POA in both instances and your sister is the backup if you cannot act.
You live about an hour away from your dad and you see him once a month. He is 82 years old, vibrant and living life to the fullest. However, you are starting to notice him being forgetful. He snaps at you when you push him about his memory issues. He has stopped going out for walks and meeting up with friends for lawn bowling and bridge. He mostly stays home and watches TV. You know your dad. You know that this behavior is not like him. Hopefully, you can convince him that he should go for a physical to his family doctor. The doctor confirms that your father is in the early stages of dementia.
Time to bring out that trusty POA and get to work.
- Banking - Head with your dad to his home branch of his bank along with a notarized copy of the POA for Property. You don’t want to ever give the original copy of the POA to anyone. Someone may want to see it, and that’s fine, but never let them take it. (Be sure to ask the lawyer who drafted the POA to provide you with 5-10 notarized copies of the POA for Property once you realize it is time for you to exercise your rights under that document.)
The POA for Property should allow the bank to have your name put on your father’s account(s) and give you signing authority. Do the same thing for any investments, stocks, bonds etc. Meet with any banking or investment official who works with your father’s cash assets in any way and make sure it is known that you now have a POA and will exercise your rights under it and will be providing direction on the accounts moving forward. Make sure that the POA is attached to all accounts that hold any of your father’s assets.
- Set up automatic payments of all bills for the home, rent, telephone etc. so that your father never has to actively pay a bill again. If he still likes to go grocery shopping on his own and you feel he can, then take cash out for him each week and leave it with him. There will come a time when that has to stop, but at least for now, you know where the money is going and are still allowing your father some freedom to live his life as he chooses while you quietly observe and protect his assets from the sidelines.
- Keep track of EVERYTHING! Every single cent going into accounts and coming out should be tracked. This is a huge task and a thankless task at that. Just remember that your father changed your diaper, stayed up with you when you had a stomach flu for four nights as a kid, taught you how to ride a bike and to throw that free throw shot from the foul line to win the basketball game. He did a lot for you; now it’s your turn to do a lot for him.
While you are caring for your father, keep in mind that you have siblings and other future potential beneficiaries (under the Will) that have a right to know how you are handling your father’s finances. Even though your father is still alive, he is no longer able to care for his assets and property. That task has fallen to you. If you did not properly care for the assets, then potentially when your father passes away, beneficiaries could demand a formal accounting of your father’s estate during the last years of his life, or worse, they could commence a lawsuit against you. Always remember that transparency, openness and complete honesty are best when dealing with all family members and potential beneficiaries when you are in the role of POA (that also applies to being in the role of guardian and/or executor).
As your father deteriorates, there will come a time when you will need to start using the POA for Personal Care. If your father needs in-home care, you can arrange that, or maybe he will need to move to a long-term care facility. All of that can be arranged using your POA for Personal Care and will be paid for by your father’s assets.
You will accompany him to all his doctor’s appointments, see that he takes his medications etc. You will have to step up and be a part of every little decision about this life: what he eats, how he is bathed, what social activities he engages in, where he lives (as mentioned above) and much more. It will be exhausting and difficult. Let’s not sugar coat it. It’s going to be emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting. Watching your father deteriorate to this state will be a very emotional process. He may get angry and may take that anger out on you. He may start to forget who you are and not let you help him. There are many services available to help you in this process and support groups for caregivers, such as yourself. Be sure to take care of yourself so that you can properly take care of your dad.
This is a tough process but consider yourself lucky that your father had the POAs drafted. For many, it can be an uphill climb just being able to help their parents because POAs were never drafted. For more on that topic, stayed tuned for our next blog post.