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Does being a power of attorney make me financially responsible?

At one point or another, many adults in Oklahoma will have to deal with the possibility of placing a parent in the care of a nursing home or other type of residential facility. This decision is already one that is fraught with emotions, and many families fail to take proper legal precautions to ensure the continued medical and financial care of their loved ones. A power of attorney is a powerful tool that can allow individuals to exercise continued control over themselves and some aspects of their estate, but it should almost always be used with caution.

Although this is not always the case, many elders who are making the move to a nursing home suffer from some type of cognitive decline. This legal incapacitation -- meaning that individuals do not have the necessary mental capacity to make their own medical or financial decisions -- is usually addressed by powers of attorney created during estate planning before the individual is incapacitated. A power of attorney is usually also responsible for signing all of the entrance paperwork for the resident.

However, simply having a power of attorney for a person does not mean that the intent of signing in lieu of another person will be clear. Signing these types of papers and contracts as a power of attorney usually does not merely indicate that a person will be responsible for the associated payments on that person's behalf using only his or her money. Instead, without any additional context, the person acting as power of attorney can be held responsible for payments, debt and other additional costs that are not made in a timely manner. This can usually be avoided by adding a simple statement at the end noting that the person signing is doing so only as a power of attorney.

Powers of attorney continue to be extremely valuable documents that allow the elderly residents of Oklahoma to extend control over their health and finances even if they are incapacitated. Still, it is strongly advised that those named as a power of attorney are chosen carefully. Once it is necessary to utilize this representation, those trusted with it must be sure to proceed with caution in order to ensure that their intent is not misunderstood.

Source: dailytribune.com, "Make sure your parents' bills don't become yours", Elizabeth O'Brien, May 12, 2016

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