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HORIZON BLOG

When to Discuss Power of Attorney

 

Question

"My sibling and I have a challenging situation and wonder what direction to take. We think our mother has some form of dementia. Every time we visit, it becomes clearer and clearer that she’s slipping. 

Mom still attempts to manage her bills, her home, and all aspects of her life except for driving. Luckily, she has stopped scaring other drivers and pedestrians. 

Now she leaves the stove on, water faucets running, bills unpaid. She doesn’t recognize family. There are other signs she’s getting worse, too. 

We wonder if it’s time to establish a power of attorney so that we can manage her affairs. The bills would be paid, we could require supervision, and we could sleep at night.

Is it time to approach the subject with mom?"

 

Answer

The short answer is yes. As described, your mother is managing independently, yet not functioning as she once was. Any child would be concerned and wonder about next steps. 

It’s definitely time to educate yourself on the nuances of how the power of attorney process works in your state. The laws are not identical everywhere, so you must learn what your particular state has in statute governing the process.

It’s also important for you to understand what power of attorney is and is not--when it becomes activated and when it stops. Educate yourself on the different types of power of attorney, from financial to medical, and durable. Each one has different levels of responsibility that are activated and deactivated at different times. Most power of attorney documents in Wisconsin become “activated” when two physicians certify that an individual is incapacitated.

You didn’t mention that your mother is resistant to assistance. If you would need to seek guardianship at some point, the State of Wisconsin has a booklet you can access on the internet at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p2/p20460.pdf that might be helpful for you to read.  Additionally, in Wisconsin, the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources (GWaar) is a wonderful resource for guardianship questions. You can access their website at gwaar.org, by phone at 885-409-9410, or email them a question at guardian@gwaar.org. They also have a newsletter. 

Additionally, you need to know that your parent must be decisional when they appoint a power of attorney and sign the document. An individual who is not capable of making decisions may not appoint a power of attorney—only the courts can do that. For someone in the early stages of decline, those decisional times may be fluid.

The next thing for you to do is discuss all of the options with your mother so she has an opportunity to consider her choices.  Also, include your siblings in the discussion. It’s important for everyone to be aware of her thoughts on the matter.

I strongly recommend you consult an attorney in elder law to create or review any document, and to assist in exploring different options. Details matter when creating legal documents. Make sure your mother is included in this process every step of the way. This is a transitional period in her life and it can be very intimidating. 

You’re clearly approaching a crossroad in this journey of life with your mom. The best thing you can do is help her navigate it. I wish you success.

 

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