The Importance of a Power of Attorney: Lessons Learned From a Tragedy

Today's post is an email interview that I did with an acquaintance of mine whose father recently suffered a stroke and lost the ability to handle his affairs. Without a power of attorney, it caused a lot of headaches and hurdles as he was unable to step in and help his father out. With as little as $35 (or $300 with a lawyer), a power of attorney would have saved him thousands of dollars and heartache.

importance of a power of attorney

The importance of having a power of attorney came to you unexpectedly. Can you share what happened to your father?

My father lived independently for decades.  However, he did not take good care of himself.  He quit smoking many years ago, but his eating habits were poor and his exercise was very limited.  He knew for several years his health was declining and he looked into assisted living options.  I urged him a few times to get a will and Power of Attorney like I had but he never did it.  At age 67 he had a stroke.  He never returned to his home.  Now he is in stable condition and living in a nursing home, however, his communication is extremely limited and only rarely does his speech make sense.  His writing is also incomprehensible.  He has no capacity to handle any of his affairs.  Sometimes stroke patients return to normal living but still has almost no communication skills after almost a year since the stroke, so he will probably not improve from his present condition.

You had advised your father to do a power of attorney (POA) years prior? What caused you to do this and what were the results?

As a young adult, I participated in a study on finances produced by Crown Financial Ministries.  Part of the curriculum was the recommendation for everyone to get a will.  I met with an attorney who specialized in estate planning.  He also stressed the importance of getting a Power of Attorney as well as a health care directive.  So I got each of those three things done.

I urged my dad to get a will, POA, and health care directive done when his health started declining.  I followed up with him a few times but he never got it done.

Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives someone you choose the power to act in your place. In case you ever become mentally incapacitated, you'll need what are known as “durable” powers of attorney for medical care and finances.

Can you talk a little bit about what happened when you didn't have POA for your dad and how that impacted acting on his behalf?

After he was taken to the hospital, it took about a month before I started looking into his financial affairs.  This was after his doctors indicated his prognosis was not good.  My dad had set up some automatic payment plans to pay most of his bills.  I was shocked at how much he was paying for cable TV and that he had a $9,000 balance on his Visa card.  A lot of interest was accruing.  I tried to cancel his cable account but the company would not talk to me unless I had a Power of Attorney.  I tried to reach several of his creditors but it was the same conversation.  I was frustrated that so much money was being wasted every month.

What steps did you take afterwards to secure a POA and (if you can share) what were the costs involved?

Altogether it cost about $6,000 in attorney's fees, which was all paid for out of my dad's funds.  There was also a huge cost of my time.  I took a whole day off work for the court hearing at the county courthouse.  I documented my time and got court approval to pay myself for my time as well.

First, I talked to the social worker at the hospital near his home in Wisconsin.  She initiated the guardianship process and it was paid for by the state.  Since I live in Minnesota, the judge approved a court hearing over the phone.  That gave me temporary guardianship for a period of only 60 days.  I had to go to court again to get the permanent guardianship.

Then my dad was moved to a nursing home in Minnesota so the Wisconsin guardianship was invalidated.  I had to start over with a new process with the Minnesota county court.  That was when I had to pay for an attorney.  I also had to hire an attorney to independently represent my dad in court.

Do you know what it would have cost to get a POA before all of this?

My wife and I just got this done a year ago and it was $300 per person.

Can you offer any helpful advice / counsel to those unsure about how to go about obtaining a POA? Any advice for suggesting one with a difficult / stubborn parent?

I urge all my close friends to get a POA.  Everyone should have one.  If one becomes incapacitated or travels abroad, no companies will talk to anyone whose name is not on the account.  It puts a huge burden on your loved ones when they have to go to court just to help you manage your finances.

Any lawyer who works on estate planning can help and it is worth the $300.

If you have a difficult parent, it may help to explain to them the costs involved in court guardianship.

Create a Power of Attorney at LegalZoom for as little as $35

TTG may receive compensation if you decide to make a purchase via the above link – at no cost to you.

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  1. Good to know.
    I haven’t heard of POA before – maybe it’s time to think about it.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. This is huge, folks! Even if your parent is not incapacitated, there are many uses. My wife and I have been in ministry in southern Europe for a couple of years, and the fact that our son has our POAs in force in America has been a great help in managing our affairs at home. Do not delay!

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