Having power of attorney (POA) is a massive responsibility. This allows the agent to make decisions for another person, who is called the principal. If the principal becomes incapacitated and can no longer decide on their behalf, whoever holds power of attorney oversees their major medical and financial decisions like managing investments or withdrawing life support.
The best way to avoid disputes over a POA is to choose the right agent. It may be evident for some families that the eldest child may also be an accountant and have a very close and trusting relationship with the parent. In other instances, the most senior may not be good with money, or the siblings may disagree on who should take on the responsibility.
Here are a few factors that make a family member a right choice for power of attorney:
A few factors make it less likely that a family member would be the right choice for a power of attorney and may commit an abuse of POA.
These factors weigh differently (a family member lacking knowledge can be informed about the principal’s financial situation, but someone in significant debt or who has an addiction is much less likely to make good decisions). Still, all play a role in selecting a POA.
It is possible to split the responsibilities of power of attorney into two fields: medical POA and financial POA. The financial POA can pay bills, withdraw funds, manage investments, cash checks, and access bank accounts. The medical POA makes all healthcare decisions for the principal, including whether to withdraw life support if the principal is vegetative or terminally ill.
It may be possible to prevent family disputes by putting the financial responsibilities into the hands of a sibling who is a financial advisor and the medical responsibilities to a sibling who lives closer and has intimate knowledge of a parent’s health or is a health professional.
Both agents must work as a team, or the arrangement cannot work. For example, if the healthcare POA determines that the principal requires in-home care services, but the financial POA is unwilling to provide the principal’s savings to do so, there can be tension and dispute.
An agent must legally act in the best interest of the principal. To do otherwise can result in being sued or being accused of abuse of POA. These accusations can often start family feuds and sibling rivalries, especially if the parent’s best interests are not being taken into consideration.
First and foremost, choosing a knowledgeable, trusted POA from the criteria above can help prevent POA abuse. If a parent is competent, they can revoke the POA at any time regardless of the reason. If family members believe an agent is not acting in a parent’s best interest, family members can file in court to remove the POA and a guardian appointed.
Not following the principal’s wishes can not only cause disputes, but it is going against your legal responsibility as POA. For example, if the principal has, as part of their living will, a DNR (do not resuscitate) order, and the POA keeps them on life support in a vegetative state, action can be taken. Maintaining your responsibility as POA is essential, even when decisions are difficult.
Mismanagement of funds can also cause family disputes. For example, not investing in long-term medical care for the principal because it may reduce available funds for inheritance is going directly against your POA responsibility. To prevent expensive court battles and lengthy family feuds, the POA must always foster trust among their family and make responsible, transparent decisions.
If you need legal assistance dealing with power of attorney, be sure to contact our law firm for a free case evaluation.