Long-distance caregiving can be difficult—for both the caregiver and the senior loved one needing care. And making decisions and dealing with financial matters can be a particular challenge.
Seniors often reach a point where it may be necessary for someone else to handle financial matters or make health care decisions for them. Having both a general power of attorney and a health care power of attorney makes that process easier.
However, if you live states away from your loved one, the process of creating and signing those documents can seem daunting.
What is a power of attorney?
Simply put, a power of attorney document allows someone else to make decisions and act in your place, mainly in financial and health care decisions.
Power of attorney laws vary from state to state, but in general, in a durable power of attorney document, you name someone to deal with financial matters as if they were you. That means they can sign documents and access your accounts in your place. A durable power of attorney document grants those powers until the person who signed it either revokes it or dies. A durable power of attorney can also be set up to only go into effect if your loved one is incapacitated.
A limited power of attorney document allows you to limit the powers you want to grant to someone else. This can be a general power of attorney granting all powers for a limited time or you can list out the powers you want to grant the person who will act in your stead. For example, if you were selling property in another state but didn’t want to travel there to sign the documents, you could grant someone only the right to represent you in that specific financial transaction with a limited power of attorney document.
The last type of power of attorney is a health care power of attorney. Most often, this is a separate document from a general power of attorney document—one that allows someone else to make health care decisions for you.
All these types of powers of attorney can be set up to go into effect when a person is incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves or to go into effect as soon as they’re signed.
When should we consider creating a power of attorney?
Power of attorney can only be granted when a person is of sound mind and able to make the decision for themselves. If your loved one can’t make legal decisions for themselves, a court will have to appoint an agent to act for them.
When to create a power of attorney is up to your loved one, but it’s a good idea to have that conversation when you start seeing signs that someone may need to take over some of the financial or health care decision-making.
How do we do this long-distance?
Powers of attorney fall under state laws, so the requirements for creating a power of attorney differ from state to state. You can find links to most states’ laws, or simply Google the power of attorney law for your state.
Keep in mind the power of attorney documents must be the ones that are valid in the state where your loved one lives, and different states have different requirements for who has to be present when the documents are signed. Some states require several witnesses, while other states may require a notary—and some states may require both.
It’s also important to note that while many states accept power of attorney documents from another state, if you’ll be doing business for your loved one in the state where you live and not the one where they live, you should consult with a lawyer to make sure the power of attorney will be accepted in your state.
Some states require only that the principal – the person granting the powers of attorney – sign the power of attorney document. This makes it easy to do from a distance. You can help your loved one create the documents by hiring a lawyer or simply using the form provided by the state. Arrange for your loved one to sign the document in front of the witnesses or notary required by state law, then have a copy sent to you.
However, if the state your loved one lives in requires that both the principal (your loved one) and the agent (you) sign the documents, things are a little more complicated. The easiest way to tackle this task is to take a trip to see your loved one and sign the documents together in the presence of the required witnesses or notary.
If you simply can’t make the trip, you’ll need to contact an attorney. State laws vary on how powers of attorney can be signed (for example, e-signatures are often not valid), and you’ll want to be sure to get it right.
Setting up power of attorney is an important part of estate planning, especially for senior loved ones. While it may take some investigating on your part, it’s worth the effort to make sure your loved one has a plan in place for when they need it.