Many times clients will call our firm and state that they need a Power of Attorney for their elderly relative because he/she has dementia or some other condition which causes diminished capacity. Unfortunately, depending on the current mental capacity of the relative, it may be too late for them to sign a Power of Attorney. The person signing the Power of Attorney has to completely understand the document to which they are executing. It is not simply enough to be able to physically sign one’s name. They need to comprehend the nature of the document and who they are appointing as their agent under the POA.
Powers of Attorney are important legal tools that allow a person to name an agent to handle their financial or medical decision making. These are crucial documents which must be executed according to the standards set forth in the law. If the documents are not executed properly, it could invalidate the Power of Attorney. One common problem is where people attempt to have their relative sign the Power of Attorney when they lack the proper mental capacity.
However, even if someone does not have the proper mental capacity, there are other routes which are available to the family members. Often times the only choice for the family in this situation is to pursue a guardianship. When this happens, one or more of the family members will petition a court to become the court-appointed guardian of their relative (known as the “Respondent”). If the judge approves the petition, the family member(s) will have the ability to handle the personal and financial affairs of the Respondent, in the same manner that an agent under a Power of Attorney would act.
Before deciding which avenue is appropriate, it is best to speak with an attorney experienced in handling both Powers of Attorney and guardianship proceedings.
Michael J. Drabant is an attorney who practices in the areas of Guardianship, Estate Planning, Probate, Elder Law, and Civil Litigation. He can be reached at 708-482-7090 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org