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Choosing a Power of Attorney

Like the property deed for your house or care, a POA grants immense ownership authority and responsibility. You could find yourself facing financial bankruptcy if you end up with a mishandled or abused durable POA. Therefore, you should choose your agent with the greatest care to ensure your wishes are carried out to the greatest extent possible.

It is critical to name a person who is both trustworthy and capable to serve as your agent. This person will act with the same legal authority you would have, so any mistake made by your agent may be difficult to correct. Even worse, depending on the extent of the powers you grant, there may be a danger for self-dealing. An agent may have access to your bank accounts, the power to make gifts and transfer your funds, and the ability to sell your property. Your agent can be any competent adult, including a professional such as an attorney, accountant, or banker, but your agent may also be a family member such as a spouse, adult child, or another relative. Naming a family member as your agent saves the fees a professional would charge and may also keep confidential information about your finances and other private matters "in the family."

Naming Children as POA

Parents who create POAs very commonly choose adult children to serve as their agents. Compared to naming one's spouse as the agent, the relative youth of the child is an advantage when the purpose of the POA is to relieve an aging parent of the burden of managing the details of financial and investment affairs or provide management for an aging parent's affairs should the parent become incapacitated. 

In these cases, a spouse named as the agent who is near the same age as the person creating the POA may come to suffer the same debilities that led the POA's creator to establish it, defeating it's purpose. When the child is honest, capable, and respects the parent's desires, this can be the best choice for a POA.

When there is more than one child, parents may struggle with the decision of which to select for the role of the agent. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Your agent named under your POA acts with the authority, so costly financial mistakes resulting from carelessness or lack of financial understanding may be impossible to fix. The same is true of acts that create interfamily conflict by favoring some members over others.

Worst of all, when delivered into the wrong hands, a POA can create a veritable "license to steal," giving your agent access to your bank accounts and the ability to spend your money or take other wrongful actions.

Children have different characters, skills, and circumstances, and the powers given to them can avert these dangers. The good news is that you can have multiple POAs naming separate agents and customize them for each child's skills set, temperament, and ability to act on your behalf. Consider these three factors when choosing which child you want to give important powers to under a POA:

  • Trustworthiness: This is the single most important trait for an agent named under a POA. This includes not just honesty, but also reliability in performing tasks that need regular attention, from managing an investment portfolio to paying bills, and diligence in acting according to your wishes.

  • Abilities of Each Child: Specific abilities of different children may make them best suited to take on roles in managing your financial affairs. You can use "limited" POA to give different children defined and limited powers over different aspects of your finances. These may include the following:

    • Managing everyday expenses of the family​

    • Receiving income from and paying expenses on real estate

    • Controlling a financial portfolio

    • Managing insurance and annuities

    • Running a family's small business

  • Multiple Agents: More than one agent can be named by a POA, either with the authority to act separately or required to act jointly. Having two children separately authorized to manage routine items can be a convenience if one becomes unavailable for some reason while requiring to agree on major actions like selling a house. This can assure family agreement over major decisions.

Naming multiple agents can cause problems if disputes arise between them. For instance, if two children are required to act jointly in managing an investment account but disagree over how to do so, it may be effectively frozen. So, when choosing two children to act jointly as agents under a POA, be sure they have not only the skills to perform the task but also the personalities to cooperate.

Risks for Naming Children as POA

Mistakes--and worse, acts of self-dealing--committed by your agent can be extremely costly. This is especially so with a durable POA that gives broad control over your affairs during a time when you are incapacitated. You must be convinced that the agent will follow your instructions, can do so, and will pursue your wishes even over the objections of other family members if need be.

Never name a child to be your agent as a matter of "fairness," to avoid hurt feelings or to preserve family harmony if you lack trust. The powers are far too important to be granted other than on the merits of trustworthiness and ability. beware of naming a child as your agent if:

  • You have trouble, awkwardness, or resistance when explaining to the child the duties to be taken on as your agent under the POA

  • The child may not be available to perform the duties, or not be reliable in doing so due to their concerns or distractions

  • The child has a history of problems with gambling or substance abuse

  • The child has serious debts or has been irresponsible in managing their finances and affairs

  • The child is engaged in intra-family conflicts that may result in using the powers received under the POA to favor some family members over others

General Risks in Naming a POA

Be aware of the dangers of theft and self-dealing created by POA, even when your agent is your child. To minimize the risk of such wrongdoing, in addition to the steps mentioned above, have your POA require your agent to report all actions periodically to an outside party, such as the family's accountant or attorney. In other words, "trust by verify." A capable attorney can draft your POA to include these safeguards under your state's laws if the POA is becoming too complex to build out yourself for free utilizing online tools.

As family circumstances change, periodically review, and update the POAs you have created. You can revoke a POA simply by writing a letter that identifies it and states that you revoke it and delivering the letter to your former agent.

Disclaimer:  At PAA, our desire is to be a GO TO Resource for everything you need for the Parkinson's diagnosis to live a quality life with PD. We want to make sure you have all resources you need as you plan your journey with Parkinson's now and into the future so that you can reflect and discern what decisions you want to make with the appropriate insights to help you choose and build a plan that is unique as your journey. The PAA, nor the contents on this website, should never be a replacement for professional expertise and guidance from medical, legal, or financial professionals. Our goal is to equip you for those conversations. As such, the PAA cannot be held accountable for your choices and outcomes while navigating your Parkinson's condition.

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