by Jan Simpson
My father called for my help, his voice laced with worry and regret. That morning he had learned that the pain in his side, a pain that he thought was caused from a touch of pneumonia, was lung cancer. After hearing the news, he contacted his attorney and then he called me. He didn’t want to talk about the cancer, in fact, he didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to know if I would be willing to help my mother “pay bills and such.” He had asked his lawyer to draft a legal document called a durable power of attorney.
A durable power of attorney is one of two important legal documents used to help support the life of an ailing parent or loved one (the second is called a health care proxy or a health care power of attorney). A durable power of attorney gives the person named broad power to manage someone’s financial assets. With that document in place, I could pay my parents’ bills, sell their house, take out loans, access their safe deposit box, and conduct any number of financial transactions on their behalf. Unlike a standard power of attorney document, the durable power of attorney gave me that authority even if he or my mother were declared mentally incapacitated.
My father knew that he and my mother needed support through the journey that lay ahead of them. Yet I heard in his voice that this decision, to ask me to assume a durable power of attorney for him and for her, was a difficult one.
Most of us prepare a will somewhat unemotionally; we know that death, like taxes, is inevitable. But giving an adult child the authority to make financial decisions is fraught with emotion, an admission that one’s ability is declining. It can be difficult to decide who is trustworthy, available, and able to make decisions in your stead. In a large family, parents may hesitate to choose one family member over another, not wanting to hurt feelings. In other families, parents may not feel comfortable asking any child to assume that level of control. And then, there is simply denial.
I felt awkward on that first Friday morning I sat at their kitchen table to pay the bills. I tried to dampen my discomfort by telling amusing stories about my children. My mother made a pot of tea, my father worked on a crossword puzzle. We silently acknowledged the change in our relationship and did our best to ignore its implications. Weeks turned into months, months into a year and I came to appreciate fully my father’s decision, for my parents were free to focus on their medical ailments and to enjoy time with their grandchildren without worry about “bills and such.” Equally important, I had a reason to spend a few hours with them alone each week, laughing and joking and relishing our time together.
Over cups of tea, I learned how my parents managed their household. I knew where their money was invested, where the insurance policies were stored, how their pension was distributed, and where their accountant lived. When my father passed away two years later, it took only a few months to transition all of the paperwork seamlessly for my mother. She would live for four more years without concern about money matters.
Have your parents or older loved ones prepared a durable power of attorney? Have you?
©Circle of Life Partners™