Watching Out For Our Wards:  Would a Power of Attorney been a better choice than a conservatorship?

A staggering number of people will need to be assigned guardians in the next 10 to 20 years.  The sad fact is many people assigned to guardians have no other choice.  At least some of them could have avoided that eventuality by setting up a power of attorney (POA) while they were still deemed capacitated.

A POA can protect an individual from losing his independence.  It lets the individual set forth how he wants to live out his life before he’s incapable of making and carrying out those decisions.  It also allows him to identify whom he wants to execute those plans and to review them while he can still speak for himself.

When a person establishes a POA while he or she can, they can place their welfare in the hands of someone they’ve come to trust rather than leave it to the courts to assign control over their lives, in some cases,  to someone they’ve never met.

When creating a Power of Attorney, consider:

Be empowered in the creation of your own POA. Don’t let someone draft one for you before getting to know you and your specific wants and needs.

Find the right person. The POA is a privilege that can easily be abused.  Make sure you choose someone you can really trust, someone whom you know is committed to helping you.  Choosing someone who ultimately abuses the POA can land you in a situation in which your resources are so decimated that there’s no recourse but to assign you to guardianship.

Don’t feel obliged to choose a family member. While a spouse, child or sibling may be the best pick, this isn’t always the case.  Family members who live far away may not be as familiar with the places you go, the people you see and the things that you do day to day.  These are the things that make life meaningful; having them taken away by someone who doesn’t know about them or understand what they mean to you may be a major setback to your quality of life, so make sure you choose someone who understands you.

Consider a professional. If no family or friends are suitable, a professional organization can step in to handle the task.  A qualified professional POA should bear no prior agenda or ulterior motive in your affairs and should strictly sign on to carry out your pre-stated wishes.  Just as with a personal selection, however, make sure the professional takes the time to listen to and learn about you.

Guardianship isn’t going to go away, but it doesn’t have to be seen as the quick or only solution, nor does it have to mean the end of a suitable life for the ward.  Understanding that there are options and realizing the implications of each is essential if we’re to remain committed to treating our clients as humanely as possible.

For more information contact Kathy Tatone, Your Family Guardian Law Firm, 612-604-5146, 4500 Park Glen Road, Suite 220, St. Louis Park, Minnesota 55416.