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What’s a Power of Attorney and Why Do Your Parents Need One?

Written by Kevin Ryan
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated March 29, 2023

A power of attorney (POA) document is an essential legal tool that can help families plan for an elderly loved one’s future wishes and care needs. By naming someone to act on their behalf, a power of attorney can help ensure your loved one’s financial and health care decisions are made according to their wishes should they become unable to do so. A power of attorney may also provide clarity and simplify a family member’s responsibilities while reducing the potential risk of disagreements. But to avoid complications, it’s important that a power of attorney is created and signed before it’s needed.

Key Takeaways

  1. A power of attorney is a legal document. The document provides details on how aspects of a person's life such as health care and finances should be managed should they become unable to manage them on their own.
  2. It's important to have a power of attorney drafted before it's needed. Attempting to create a power of attorney for a loved one who is incapacitated may present several legal obstacles.
  3. The agent named in a power of attorney should be a trusted confidant. The designated agent in a power of attorney will be responsible for carrying out the tasks as they are detailed in the document.
  4. A power of attorney document can be found online or it can be drafted by a lawyer. Finding a general power of attorney document online is easy but hiring a lawyer to draft one for your family may help you avoid future legal complications.

How to get power of attorney over a parent

The most important thing you should know about setting up a power of attorney is that your loved one must do it while they’re still of sound mind. In other words, your loved one should have a power of attorney drafted and signed before it is needed. It can become challenging, expensive, and time consuming for children to get a power of attorney over a parent if the parent becomes incapacitated.
Many families mistakenly believe the time to get a power of attorney is when a parent becomes unable to make decisions due to an accident, illness, or stroke. However, legal documents may not be considered binding if a parent signs them when they are mentally or physically incapacitated.

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Understanding the different types of power of attorney

Power of attorney documents can be customized to meet a loved one’s needs. And because the legal requirements vary from state to state, there’s no single power of attorney that fits every situation. There are general power of attorney forms that give an agent broad decision-making powers, but many people choose to grant only financial and/or medical power of attorney. Documents can be tailored to specify which medical and financial decisions an agent can make on a person’s behalf.
When a power of attorney takes effect is determined by its type. A durable power of attorney takes effect immediately and remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated. However, springing power of attorney only takes effect when certain conditions, detailed in the document, occur .

The designated agent should be a trusted decision maker

An agent is someone who is trusted to carry out the tasks outlined in the power of attorney document on your loved one’s behalf. The agent should have a history of making good financial and health care decisions. They should have a history of following through with commitments, along with good communication skills. They will be responsible for keeping family and friends informed if your loved one becomes unable to make decisions for themselves.

Without a power of attorney, managing your loved one’s care wishes can be challenging and time consuming

Attending to your loved one’s care, if they become incapacitated, will be more difficult without a power of attorney in place.
Here are a few things a properly drafted power of attorney can help your family avoid:
  1. You may not know your loved one’s wishes. One benefit of a POA is that it can spark conversations about your loved one’s health care wishes, home and money.
  2. You may not be able to cover their expenses. Without a power of attorney, legally you may not be allowed to pay bills from your loved one’s bank accounts, or file taxes, and medical claims on their behalf. You may end up having to pay out of pocket to cover certain expenses.
  3. Your family members may disagree about what needs to be done. A power of attorney and a trusted agent can forestall quarrels by spelling out exactly what your parents want and by giving someone the legal power to get it done.
  4. You may have to go to court. Without a power of attorney you may not have the legal standing to act on your loved one’s behalf. Making a request from the courts to do so can be costly and take time.

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How to get power of attorney for an elderly parent

While you can find power of attorney documents online, it may be worth the time and money to hire an elder law or family attorney to draft a power of attorney for you. Because there are different types of power of attorneys available to fit specific circumstances, an attorney can help you create the document that fits your loved one’s needs. Hiring an attorney may also help families to avoid future questions regarding their loved one’s competency at the time the document was executed.

Help exploring care questions for your aging loved one

If you’re a caregiver with questions about how to support your loved one, OurParents can help you find answers. Our Senior Care Advisors can provide information regarding care services options in your area including in-home care and senior-living options.


  1. American Bar Association. Power of Attorney

Meet the Author
Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan is a copywriter at OurParents. He has written about Medicaid and Medicare, and focuses on creating content for caregivers. Previously, Kevin worked as a freelance writer, a special education teacher, and a counselor for adults with developmental disabilities. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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