Guardianships can be crucial to protecting the needs of vulnerable elderly or disabled adults. Understanding the differences in the two types of guardianships makes it easier for you to make plans in the event of a loved one’s incapacitation. Pennsylvania recognizes two types of guardianship that address different needs.
Every time you go home, you notice your Dad is changing. It starts with him forgetting names. Then you see that he’s struggling to find the right words for things. Then he stops remembering to pay bills.
The growing problem of adult guardianship abuse is giving rise to calls for reform, as vulnerable elderly people caught up in this system sometimes end up being harmed and exploited by the very process that’s supposed to protect them.
What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?
Most of us do not want to look into the future and find that we are unable to care for ourselves, or manage our day-to-day affairs. However, planning for this possibility is a necessity you should seriously consider.
Preparation of a Power of Attorney is key in preparing for the possibility of your disability or incapacity. Several types of Power of Attorney are as follows:
General Durable Power of Attorney. This Power of Attorney is comprehensive and gives your agent all the powers and rights that you have yourself. For example, you can give your agent the right to sign legal documents, pay your bills, and conduct financial and healthcare matters on your behalf. This Power of Attorney continues in effect until you revoke it or you die. A Power of Attorney designated as “durable” remains effective after you become incapacitated or disabled. In Pennsylvania, all Powers of Attorney are durable unless specified otherwise in the document.
Healthcare Power of Attorney. This Power of Attorney, which is also usually durable, permits your agent to act on your behalf in all healthcare related matters if you become disabled or incapacitated.
Limited Power of Attorney. This Power of Attorney gives your agent the power to act on your behalf for a limited purpose. For example, if you are selling your home and cannot attend settlement, you could prepare a limited Power of Attorney authorizing your agent to sign the settlement documents on your behalf. The authority of the agent to act under a limited Power of Attorney usually ends at a specific time or upon the completion of a specific event, as set forth in the document.
Springing Power of Attorney. This Power of Attorney gives your agent the power to act in your behalf only when you become disabled or incapacitated. Unlike a General Durable Power of Attorney, your agent cannot act under this document solely for your convenience if you are not disabled or incapacitated. If you choose to prepare a Springing Power of Attorney, it is important that the trigger used to determine your disability and/or incapacity be set forth clearly in the document.
Have you been officially asked to manage someone else’s money? For example, have you been named as an agent under a power of attorney or a trustee of a trust? As our society ages, more and more people are being asked to take on these roles, but they can be daunting.
In order to help, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published four free guides; under the general title Managing Someone Else’s Money. The guides are designed for (1) agents under a power of attorney, (2) court-appointed guardians, (3) trustees of a trust, and (4) people appointed to manage someone else’s government benefit checks, such as Social Security and Veterans.
Without an estate plan, attorneys, or the courts, may decide the fate of your assets.
Even if you have a modest estate, it’s important that you know the basics of estate planning, as well as get expert assistance in making plans. Young or old, wealthy or not so much, you can make life easier on your loved ones during a time of grief by being proactive. For this reason, we advise you to start the estate planning process as early as possible.
What can you do now to ensure that your assets go to the people you choose, not those the state chooses, or that your affairs will be taken care of as you wish if you become incapacitated?