A Useful Device For Seniors:

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney can be a useful, and sometimes essential, document for senior citizens. In general, the older a person becomes, the more important it is to have a durable power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney is a paper by which one person (the “principal”) appoints another person as agent and allows this agent to act for the principal. The agent is also known as the “attorney-in-fact,” not to be confused with an “attorney at law,” who is a person licensed to practice law.

The most common use for a power of attorney is to transfer property. The principal can authorize the attorney-in-fact to sign the principal’s name to buy, sell, or mortgage real estate; buy or sell securities; deposit or withdraw funds from a bank; or sell automobiles. The power of attorney can also be used to make health care decisions and arrange living accommodations. You can give your attorney-in-fact as much authority as you think appropriate.

Clearly, you should appoint only someone you trust. Most married couples appoint each other. Single persons generally appoint a relative or a close friend.

If you do not have a durable power of attorney and you become incompetent due to an accident, disease, or age, a court-supervised guardianship would likely have to be arranged for you. A guardianship would make your finances and personal problems a matter of public record. A guardian’s decisions regarding your welfare would require a court order and your guardian would probably need a lawyer for some of the court proceedings. Most people prefer these matters be determined privately by a spouse or trusted relative or friend acting under a durable power of attorney.

Every senior citizen who has a close friend or relative who can be trusted to make personal and financial decisions should consider having a durable power of attorney.