Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tip Four: Get Some Power

Mother and I for decades now have had a dysfunctional way of relating to one another, so it was in that vein that she told me shortly after Dad died that she had asked her attorney to create a Power of Attorney document giving me full power over her affairs in case something happened to her. She told me by pointing out that "everyone" told her not to do that because I would just rip her off, but she didn't believe that and was doing it anyway. I was never sure who "everyone" was, but I think it was a couple of people she bowled with because one of them had been badly burned financially by a kid. And, I don't know if the truth of it was that "everyone" really thought that I personally would mishandle her finances, or if it was a general statement of mistrust about letting someone have that kind of blanket authority. Whatever the case, that's how she did things, in a most annoyingly back-handed way. I was not much better in relating back to her, so I can't get too bent out of shape really. But, regardless of all the game playing accompanying it, she was trying to get her affairs in order, which is a good thing. She even sent me a document that I didn't pay that much attention to and filed away in the fireproof box, forgetting for years that I even had it. So when we began this journey last fall, she told everyone that I had that authority, and I thought I was ready to go. I pulled what she had sent me only to find it was only partially executed. She said she had the original in her lock box (leading me to the adoption discovery), but in fact all she had was a draft. Whether it was out of some sort of mistrust after all, or she just was do disorganized she never got around to executing it, we had to begin from scratch. That was interesting. A friend who is an attorney drew up a new document for me, but getting it signed was an ordeal for two reasons. She did get suspicious about my intentions, and she wasn't exactly in the greatest state of mind most days. My mother-in-law stepped in, arranged for a Notary and took them both up to the nursing home to get it signed on a day when Mother was doing pretty well mentally.

Suddenly, taking care of Mother's affairs became easier, but not completely easy. Because, as I have found out on several occasions, it's not a blanket authority for all things. I still have to consult with Mother or get her signature on a number of issues and that can be maddening. And that will range from a simple change of address request to more complicated financial arrangements. And, as I have found out, she can make financial decisions for herself as well. One day I got a check in the mail made out to her for a large sum out of her brokerage account. I was shocked. Turned out, she had called them up and asked for the money. Not sure what for exactly, she just thought she needed it. I had visions of her draining her own finances down on senility fueled whims and leaving me unable to pay her room and board. Her broker, however, is completely powerless (and probably pretty frustrated herself). She has to do what Mother says unless I have her legally deemed unfit, and, with the Power of Attorney in play, has to also follow my directions, which sometimes conflict. Just yesterday, I had to convince Mother she didn't need to pull a chunk out of her account. She didn't recall signing the document we both had to sign that pulls enough out each month to pay the nursing home and figured I must need some money for her bills. But, I don't really want to have her legally deemed incompetent. That's just a level of conflict and indignity I don't really want to inflict on her. So, I just grit my teeth and try to take it a day at a time.

Other entities, like the Department of Defense, who pay Mother a small annuity as the widow of a veteran, could care less that I have that document. Mother has to authorize anything we do on the account. And, all I'm trying to do is get the address changed. But, I do get it. There is a lot of fraud out there, and everyone has to be careful.

And even medically, the Power of Attorney only takes me so far. I learned that as long as she can follow what a medical team is telling her, she is in charge of her own medical decisions, no matter how bizarre those decisions might be. As an example, that horrible Sunday when she checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice, I could not have stopped her, Power of Attorney or not.

But, it's still an important document for me to have. I was able to get her taxes filed as a result of it. Her doctors are able to speak to me freely with it in place, and I can make the all important financial steps needed to make sure to keep her care going. So, I would encourage every family with an aging parent to make sure one of the family has that authority, but to do it before the crisis erupts.

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