I was sitting beside my dad the day he told his banker he was no longer able to take care of his own financial affairs. My dad took out his Power of Attorney and assigned me as his agent. I could tell that this was the tipping point for dad. A transition was taking place. A change of power.
It must be an odd feeling when a parent comes to the realization that they no longer have the mental ability to handle their affairs. Hopefully before they have that epiphany, a Power of Attorney has been completed.
What exactly is a Power of Attorney? According to Wendy Goidel, Estate Planning & Elder attorney, it is a
. . . a document which allows you to appoint someone you trust to handle your legal and financial affairs if you become temporarily or permanently incapacitated. If you become incapacitated, and do not have a Power of Attorney giving your agent the requisite authority, your family may have to commence a guardianship proceeding which is time-consuming, intrusive and expensive. If you are a New York resident, and want to give your agent the power to engage in estate and/or long-term care (Medicaid) planning should you become incapacitated, the Power of Attorney must be accompanied by another document called a “Statutory Gifts Rider”.
So if this simple document is so important, why do people struggle to put it in place? Fear. Uncertainty. The execution of this agreement requires an individual to look carefully at their closest relationships and ask the most important financial question: Who is it that I can trust with my financial life? Who is it that will make important decisions on my behalf and act selflessly to make sure that my needs are taken care of?
These are humbling questions which may require a great deal of self reflection.
I can remember teaching a retirement class at the 92nd Y in NYC about Power of Attorneys, when an attendee raised his hand and said, “I don’t have anyone in my life I can trust. Will you be my Power of Attorney?” At first I thought he was joking. He was dead serious. Of course I explained to him that it was unethical for me to function in that capacity, and went into a conversation about assigning a corporate or lawyer as his Power of Attorney.
I have come to realize that even some of my clients who are married or who have a partner are reluctant to complete this document. Many make the mistake that a simple will takes care of this. Then I remind them that a will is only valid after you die. A Power of Attorney is operative while you are alive.
Think about the responsibilities a financial advisor has, and you will understand why I am so intent on having these conversations with our clients.
Any investment recommendation I make must be anchored to a specific financial goal. It has to have a purpose. The only one that can tell me that purpose is the client.
For my dad, the decision was simple. Of all his children, I was the one calling him every day. I was the one who visited him in his Florida home. I was the child he trusted most. In the end, it is a selfless act accepting the role of agent for POA.
When a POA is done with the right person, you are able to age with dignity. And that’s real power.