What if one morning you woke up and couldn’t get out of bed, or put your thoughts together to make yourself understood? If you or someone you love lost the ability to care for yourself, would your interests be protected?

As more Americans are living longer, many of us face increasing health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease. Did you know that someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds? In the last 10 years, deaths from heart disease have actually decreased while deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia have increased 145%, affecting one in every three seniors.

If you or a family member lost the ability to care for themselves, what would you do to help them make decisions? One way to prepare is with a power of attorney (POA), a document that acts as a kind of permission slip to give someone the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This simple document can save you time, money, frustration and embarrassment. To avoid common mistakes, here are a few things to keep in mind when creating powers of attorney.

Don’t wait to create POAs

While a heart attack or stroke can strike at any time, dementia develops slowly over many years. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s can start 20 or more years before the first symptoms show up.

Since you can only sign a POA (or any legal document) if you are legally competent to do so, don’t wait to put one in place. While a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s doesn’t automatically prohibit you from signing a POA, you still need to have your wits about you. At Generation Law, our first step is to try to get authorization from your doctor stating that you’re competent to sign for yourself. However, that’s not always possible, depending on how advanced the disease is. That’s why it’s so important to create the necessary documents sooner rather than later.

Avoid DIY documents

To save a little money, many people try to create powers of attorney by downloading a document from the internet. This is a recipe for disaster that can have lasting consequences for you or a loved one dealing with Alzheimer’s. Here’s why it pays to work with an experienced professional to create these all-important documents.

  • Tailor your POA to your needs. A power of attorney should represent the specifics of your unique circumstances. A generic document from the internet doesn’t do that. Instead, the language in these documents is often ambiguous, making them ripe for court challenges. Sometimes, you find out that these forms aren’t legally valid; by that time, it will be much too late.
  • Choose the right forms. There are different types of POAs for different needs. When people try to create POAs on their own, it’s easy to use the wrong form mistakenly. For instance, if you need Medicaid planning to help cover the costs of nursing home care, a special Medicaid power of attorney is required. Otherwise, you could wind up losing out on benefits that can help cover the staggering costs of long-term care.
  • Make sure they’re properly signed. The other frequent problem with DIY POAs is signing them incorrectly. A power of attorney form must be signed by the correct people at the correct points in the document, and these requirements can differ by state. Without the correct signatures, your POA can end up being useless when you really need it.

Sadly, when issues with POAs are discovered, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. Once you or your loved one are already incapacitated, the only recourse is typically to create a guardianship through the courts. This process is extremely costly, time-consuming and invasive, since it requires public discussion of highly personal matters.

Taking control of your future

A POA is a lot like a parachute – if you don’t have it when you need it, it’s too late. Having an experienced attorney prepare your powers of attorney can save you and your family endless heartache down the road by ensuring that, when things get tough, you have a person you can trust to act on your behalf. Please get in touch with us anytime to help make sure your POAs are set up correctly.