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A Reminder on the Importance of Power of Attorney

For those that recently read our updates, It has been a devil of a time for the Full Time Finance household.  The hardest part of the last few weeks?  Dealing with a family members lack of power of attorney.

Surprise Incapacitation, What Now?

About 2 weeks ago a close extended family member of mine was discovered incapacitated in their home.  I won’t bore you with the details about what happened to this individual, not the least of which due to it not being my story to tell, but the aftermath of this event unfortunately gives a great cautionary tale.  For the purpose of this post I will not tell you whom this individual is, except to note that I am their closest living relative.

Anyway, after getting this individual to the hospital it was determined they were not fully cognizant of what was occurring.  Things were just not making sense.   The hospital, the insurance companies and everyone else began to ask what to do.

No Power of Attorney and Covid Leave Me in the Dark

Then things got weird.  You see this person had no medical power of attorney (a document granting someone else the ability to make medical decisions on their behalf given certain circumstances).  What that meant was initially I received no updates as to what was going on with the relative in the hospital.  To make matters worse due to Covid, I was not allowed in to see this individual. I was truly in the dark.

Sure, you could call the hospital and ask to speak to him.  But even that was difficult as the individual kept moving floors.  And the nurses. Well since I had no medical power of attorney initially they wouldn’t even talk to me about his situation due to HIPAA.  How can you begin to help an individual if you don’t even know where they are?

Over time the fog began to clear for this individual.  As I write this he is still not his old self.  But anyway, in the process he managed to insist the hospital start to answer my questions.  So I got updates… At least until they moved him to a rehabilitation facility. Then I had to repeat this same process.  All for want of a medical power of attorney.

Insurance Company and Long Term Care Won’t Talk Without Power of Attorney

But the story doesn’t end there.  This individual has some very specific insurance and long term care coverage.  Getting his care aligned with those requirements has proven nearly impossible.  Why?  Because I have no financial power of attorney (a document granting someone else the ability to make financial decisions on their behalf given certain circumstances).  So again no one from these groups will talk to me.

Incompetence? Guardianship?

Now of course there are provisions to declare someone incompetent and thus be awarded guardianship/power of attorney.  But the bar for such legal application is a very low level of competence.  As I am finding out there is a large range of not really with it that doesn’t meet the definition of just plain out of it.  So in my case this was not an avenue open to me, and I wouldn’t assume it will be to you.

Levels of Competency

It might be possible for that individual to give a nurse an affirmative that they can give you a medical update.  But calling the insurance company and navigating hurdles is well beyond the scope of just competent.  

Bill Paying Without Power of Attorney

Want still more pain?  Think of all the bills you have every month.  This individual has been out of it for 2 weeks in the hospital.  He also might have been out of it for 2-3 weeks before he was found.  So yes, weeks of piling up bills.

No power of attorney means technically no way to secure his funds to pay his bills.  There are some ways around this with his help.  I’ve managed to discover some easily accessible accounts and a list of bills due to some luck, access to the individuals home, and some discussions in the later half of this episode.    But had this individual stayed in his initial state of confusion or I did not have prior arranged ability to access his home, the bill penalties would still be piling up.  

Paperless Statements Suck When You are Trying to Unwind Someone Else’s Life

I will add this note.. Heaven help you if the person you are trying to help only has online bill pays.  Without paper statements tracking all this stuff down without power of attorney would have been impossible.

You Can Always Get Power of Attorney Later, Right?

What about getting power of attorney after this type of event occurs?  Well first to get power of attorney the person has to be deemed competent.  So before you can do anything you have to have that tested and certified.  Even if that passes then you need an estate attorney to draft the documents.   Finally in the world of Covid somehow you have to get all this information to the individual in the facility to sign.

Magnify that all by having to be able to explain what a power of attorney is to someone who doesn’t fully appreciate their situation.  IE. at best your looking at weeks to resolve the issue after the fact and a ton of headache.

A Warning, Go Get Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney

So why did I write this somewhat therapeutic piece on my recent trials and tribulations?  In that hopes that you the reader can avoid inflicting this pain on yourself or having it inflicted on you.  

Make sure you have a power of attorney and medical power of attorney drafted.   If you have someone in your life that will likely need your help if something happens, make sure they have one as well!   It might cost you a few hundred dollars.  Trust me it’s worth it.  I wish the difficulties I am now experiencing on no one.  

One Day and a Time

An update on us before I close.  It is still not known what the future holds for the individual in question.   I am at the beginning of what might be a multi year process depending on what happens in the next few weeks.  The only thing I can recommend for anyone who might find theirselves in my position is take it one day at a time.  

Do you have a power of attorney?  Do the people for which you might find yourself responsible?

7 Comments

  1. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn June 29, 2020

    Wow. What a nightmare situation. Not sure I would have been as patient as you were.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 29, 2020

      I haven’t lost my temper yet…. My wife has a few times so far on my behalf.

  2. steveark
    steveark June 29, 2020

    My wife and I recently updated our estate plan to reflect the fact that the kids are grown and gone. My mom died seven years ago followed a year or so later by my dad. My dad had Parkinson’s which made communication and mobility difficult but he had granted power of attorney to me and my brother so we could use his credit cards and checking and savings accounts on his behalf. He also got paper statements so we knew where everything was. Everything you’ve stated was exactly what we experienced but since we had the proper paperwork we were able to make his final days as good as they could be. And because we had worked with all of his accounts and paid his bills for months when he passed it made settling the estate much easier. He died a millionaire and we still avoided probate and were able to use very expedited probate affidavit process instead. Things were workable but if he had not prepared for it it would have been a nightmare.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 29, 2020

      The difference in being prepared. If I wasn’t motivated to be prepared for my kids sake before, I am now after having see this.

  3. Katie
    Katie June 29, 2020

    I’m so sorry about your family member and what you’re experiencing. What a major headache for you! Your family member is lucky to have you, though. You’ve been incredibly patient during an unreasonably stressful time. Thank you for sharing your story because I know from patient experience how difficult the lack of a power of attorney or advanced directives can be. Good luck to you all.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 29, 2020

      Thanks Katie. One day at a time…

  4. freddy smidlap
    freddy smidlap June 29, 2020

    sorry you had to go through all this. i’ve been in the same lousy spot in my family a few years ago. it’s a gloomy topic but very much worth consideration by everyone.

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