My aunt is a widow without children. She is getting quite frail, and I am the only relative who lives nearby. Her estate is pretty negligible, but I think we should be considering some legal issues anyway. What happens, for example, if she becomes incompetent to take care of her own affairs and make her own decisions? I don't know where to start and certainly don't have a lot of money for legal fees. Can you help?
I can steer you in the right direction. First, let me share some information from a pamphlet put out by Kansas Legal Services for Older Adults, and then I'll tell you how to contact them. That organization is your best starting place.
Power of attorney
Have you ever wondered how your bills would get paid if you become ill? Who could authorize the sale of your home if you need the money? How could you make sure your favorite niece could get health information from your doctor? A power of attorney is a written document in which you (the "principal") give another person (the attorney-in-fact or agent) the legal authority to perform certain acts on your behalf. The authority you give can be very general or very specific. It can be limited to one or several acts. It can cover financial and/or medical decisions.
Durable power of attorney
A durable power of attorney gives your agent the authority to act even after you become incompetent. You can specify when you want the document to go into effect. If it is effective upon your signature, your agent has authority to act immediately. You may prefer to make it effective only when and if you do become incapacitated. The appropriate choice for you will depend on factors such as your current state of health, your needs and your choice of agent. All powers of attorney terminate on your death.
Durable power of attorney for health care decisions
A durable power of attorney for health care decisions allows you to designate another person to serve as your agent for purposes of making health care decisions when you are unable to do so. The written document must contain language expressing that this power is to remain in force even if the principal is incapacitated.
Things you should know about powers of attorney:
- The principal must be mentally competent to give a power of attorney.
- The power of attorney must be a written document.
- Signing a power of attorney does not mean that you give up the authority to conduct your own business or make your own decisions. Also, you have the ultimate authority to direct your agent, or to revoke the powers you have granted.
- There are circumstances where having a power of attorney may not be sufficient to solve a particular problem. For example, an Alzheimer's patient who will not go to the hospital for needed care may require a court-appointed guardian.
- A power of attorney can be revoked or amended at any time, if the principal is competent.
- You should have the assistance of an attorney to prepare a power of attorney.
If you are age 60 or older, you may contact the Kansas Elder Law hot line. The hot line is a toll-free service for Kansas seniors providing free legal advice and referral. You may reach the Kansas Elder Law hot line during business days from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at (888) 353-5337.