For social workers working in healthcare settings, the question of the day is “Who is the POA for this patient?” It is an important piece of information and let’s staff know who can make health care decisions for the patient if they cannot speak for themselves. Often the patient is an elderly person who has dementia, or has had a stroke and is not able to make decisions for themselves. What is a Power of Attorney (POA) and why is it important? A POA is a legal document that allows an appointed person to manage affairs, such as signing checks to pay bills, if a person become unable to do so for themselves. When a POA is “durable” – called a Durable Power of Attorney or DPOA – it remains valid and in effect even if the person becomes unable to make decisions for themselves. If the POA document does not state that the power is durable, the POA ends when the person becomes incapacitated. A POA document can be revoked or changed at any time.
There are two kinds of durable powers of attorney: 1) financial lets the designated person manage financial affairs if you become incapacitated, and 2) health care allows the designated person make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. When planning for care for elderly parents it is vital to have this document in place for both health and finance. Two different people can be chosen (one for health, one for finance) but the downside of this arrangement is that people can disagree, causing arguments and, ultimately, can delay making necessary decisions.
The time to put this document into place is when elderly parents and loved ones are able to make clear decisions about who they want to make decisions on their behalf. The POA document must be signed and notarized and several copies should be certified for the designated person’s use. If the elderly person is brought to the emergency room, make sure the POA documents are available to bring with them. Don’t wait to have this important document put in place.