We all know we should have a will, a power of attorney, and a health care directive. But when life is humming along and we and the others in our lives are healthy, it’s something most of us don’t even think about. I understand this. But now that I have your attention, I hope you will give it some thought.
This past year I cajoled my own parents to get their legal house in order. It took a daughter’s prompting, encouraging, and eventually, pleading, to get them to sit down with an elder law attorney and do the work that needed to be done. It’s one of the best gifts they could have given each other—and me. Now, if something should happen, we all have the peace of mind knowing that if I have to make some decisions, I have the legal ability to do just that.
A very different story
I received a call from Cari, who is the daughter and caregiver to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. Cari’s father, Dale, is overwhelmed and distraught with making a decision about moving out of their current home and into senior housing. He knows senior housing will offer memory care services for his wife and respite for him, but he has become paralyzed with indecision. When I asked Dale where he would like to move, he said, “I have no idea. I just want to know my wife is taken care of.”
Cari and Dale’s days have become consumed with taking care of their loved one. They told me stories of her declining condition and her inability to be left alone. Dale knows it’s time to move, but he has no idea how to choose a place to live, much less get the house ready for the market, all while caring for his wife. Plus, this family did not have a power of attorney in place. Without this document, the process was going to get even more complicated.
In Minnesota, when you own real estate and are also married, both spouses must sign the listing contract, purchase agreement, and deed that will transfer the title of the property. Of course if both can’t sign, a properly prepared Power of Attorney (POA) document solves the problem quite nicely. But note: someone who is not mentally competent cannot sign a POA document, much less the paperwork needed to sell a home. In this case, it was imperative that these documents were prepared long before they were needed. I reiterate: these documents need to be prepared when you are least likely to need them—when everyone is healthy and doing well!
Because Dale did not have durable POA, we couldn’t list his house for sale until he had permission to act on his wife’s behalf. I referred Dale to an elder law attorney to pursue becoming a legal guardian or conservator for his wife, which will require court action. Once Dale becomes his wife’s legal guardian or conservator, then we can list the house for sale. It was heart-breaking to tell Dale that the sale of the house would be delayed because of one simple legal document.
Tips on Power of Attorney documents
They should be correctly filled out. You can download a template from the Internet. However, be warned that if the form isn’t filled out correctly, it can be voided. Because of the importance of this document, I am a strong advocate for it to be filled out by an elder law attorney. If you intend to use the document to sell real estate, the name of the principal (the person granting the authority) on the POA document should match the way the names are recorded on the property title. If they are different, the county examiner may reject the POA document at the time of sale and you won’t be able to use this document to sell the property. As a real estate agent, I cannot give my clients legal advice about this document and how to correctly fill it out—that is best left to an elder law attorney.
Get multiple copies. You may only have one opportunity to get this document filled out, so get three originals made. This means three original documents with three original signatures and three original notary stamps. When you sell your home, the title company will ask for an original copy. This document then travels through the title company’s processing center to the county where the home is located, to the county examiner. You’ll want other original copies at your fingertips in case you need them.
Record the document. Even though I suggest getting multiple originals signed, most people don’t heed that advice. If you only have one original copy, it’s a very good idea to record it with the county you reside in. Then, if the document is ever ruined or misplaced you can get a registered copy from the county. This is as good as an original for a title company when you are selling real estate.
Here’s hoping your holiday gift to yourself and your loved ones will be some pre-planning with a will, health care directive, and power of attorney.
Lisa Dunn is a realtor with The Change Agents Group of RE/MAX Results. You can find her at TheSeniorHousingSearch.com.