Power of Attorney: How soon do you need one?

About once a month, we get a phone call that starts like this:  “My father is in the hospital and the doctors have told us we need a power of attorney so we can make decisions for him.  Is that something you do?”

My response is, “Sure we do.  Is there a convenient time that I could meet with your father to discuss his needs?”

 Too often the answer is, “Well, I need to get the power of attorney because dad is in a coma (or nonresponsive or on a ventilator).  Can’t I just come in and take care of it?”

And, unfortunately, my answer is, “No. You can’t.  It requires your father’s action at a time when he has mental capacity to grant the authority.”

Powers of attorney, whether related to health care matters or finances, have to be executed before situations make them necessary.  The person granting the power is appointing another person as his or her agent to make decisions and act on his or her behalf at time when he or she cannot make or communicate those decisions.  This requires that the document be executed when the granting party has an understanding of the powers being granted.

When someone asks, “When should I execute a power of attorney,” I feel like the only acceptable answers are (1) now, or (2) before it’s too late.

None of us likes to consider that something so dire could happen that we would be rendered incapable of making our own decisions.  But it happens every day to people of all ages and circumstances. 

Powers of attorney are somewhat like insurance.  It’s better to have it and never use it, than to need it and not have it.