Power of attorney explained

Q: The other day my mother asked my husband if he would agree to be the power of attorney for her estate.

My husband did not say much to my mom but he later told me that he does not want to be responsible for her life. He is afraid that becoming an attorney for my mother will put him in a position for making life-sustaining decisions for which he is not comfortable. He does not want to make the call should someone have to turn off a life-sustaining machine for her.

The problem is that my husband does not know how to explain this to my mother without offending her. What do you suggest?

A: I think that before your husband decides whether or not to agree to the power of attorney for your mother’s estate, he and you should have a chat with your family lawyer. Neither you nor your husband seem to fully understand what power of attorney means. Your lawyer can explain it to you. Your husband might not feel so overwhelmed when he better understands what it is that your mother is asking.

In its short form, the power of attorney is simply a signature to your mother’s finances. The intent is to help manage her estate should she not be able to pay her bills and collect money that is owing to her.

Usually, the person with power of attorney can write cheques, pay bills and manage someone else’s bank accounts. It has nothing to do with medical or health issues.

Your husband, if given the power of attorney, will not have to decide whether to continue treatment if your mother should suddenly find herself dependent on life-support systems. Nor will your husband be called if your mother develops a mental health issue that challenges her ability to make rational decisions for her own well-being. His responsibilities would simply be her estate.

As I see it, your mother is demonstrating a great deal of respect and honour toward your husband by asking him to take on the power of attorney. Hopefully, if he accepts the invitation your husband will do more than be a namesake to your mom’s accounts. Your husband should sit with your mother at least once a month and review with her the state of all of her accounts. The better he and she understand all that is going on with her finances, the better he will be able to support and help her should she be unable to get up and about when her accounts need attention.

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