Q.  How do I know who to select as my agent in a general power of attorney?

Frank – Aurora

A.  A general power of attorney is a powerful document that allows an adult to designate a trusted individual, known as an agent, to manage the financial affairs of the principal.  In this case, Frank, you would be the principal, and the person you select to work on your behalf would be the agent

Powers of attorney can either be general in nature, to cover all aspects of financial affairs, or limited to a specific transaction, such as purchasing a car. The document can be drafted so that the agent has authority to act on behalf of the principal immediately upon signing.  Alternatively the agent may only have authority to act after a specific event has occurred, such as a determination by a physician that the principal is not able to manage his or her own finances. This type of document is commonly known as a springing power of attorney

A common reason why people do not have a power of attorney is that they do not know who to select as their agent.  You are wise to give the decision about who to select careful consideration.  Your agent could have access to all of your financial affairs, including your bank account, social security check, and the deed of your home.  An agent is required to maintain an accounting of how the principal’s resources are used.  Therefore, the agent must be a trusted individual who knows how to manage finances and whose morals and ethics are beyond reproach.

It would be unwise to select an individual who has a history of poor financial management skills – as shown by credit card debt, a history of gambling, or drug abuse – to be your agent. Serving as an agent is a challenging undertaking. Before naming an individual to act as your agent, it is important that you and the individual have a detailed discussion about an agent’s responsibilities and expectations to measure their willingness to serve in that capacity. 

An elder law lawyer can draft a power of attorney that is tailored to meet your needs and advise you about how to select an agent to work on your behalf. 

Q.  My sister suffers from a mental illness. She is a lovely person when she takes her medication.  However, when she stops taking her medication she can become unpredictable. Sometimes she is depressed and other times she can be volatile and on the verge of violence. Over the years, she has tried to live independently several times.  Every thing starts off well, but then she decides that she is healthy and stops taking her medication, and she often ends up in a mental health institution. This time the hospital recommended that she be placed in an assisted living or nursing home that can provide supervision. My sister is only 53 years old. I am depressed and saddened that she is so young and will live in a nursing home!

Judy – Denver

A.  It is very difficult to hear that your sister’s health care providers are recommending a long-term care facility for your sister. Long-term care facilities are designed to meet the needs of individuals with chronic illnesses such as uncontrolled diabetes, dementia, multiple sclerosis, and, in many cases, mental illness. There are several nursing homes and assisted living residence that specialize in providing care for individuals with major mental illnesses, most of whom are young, like your sister. Such facilities provide activity programing that is appropriate for a younger population. For example, rather than bingo, they might organize a camping trip. Staff members are specially trained to work with individuals with various types of mental illness. The best facilities provide supervision in a supportive environment that helps residents reach their highest potential.  Under the best of circumstances your sister might learn the skills to live independently in the future. 

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of articles by elder law attorney, Ayo Labode, Esq., that will appear in the DUS. This column is to provide readers with an understanding of issues faced with aging from the perspective of an elder law attorney. It does not give legal advice, but will provide practical information that can be used to better consumers. As a question and answer format, readers are invited to participate by emailing info@labodelaw.com or calling 720-295-9509. For more information, visit www.labodelaw.com.