Legal Words of Wisdom: Financial Power of Attorney

Rodney Warner, Esq
Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc.
Last Modified: March 1, 2009

Powers of attorney are not limited to the health care realm. Financial powers of attorney can be invaluable to a person dealing with cancer. If a patient doesn’t have the energy, desire or ability to deal with financial matters, this document would allow someone else to do it for him/her. An agent can be named to have as many or as few responsibilities to handle financial matters as the patient sees fit. But, that agent needs to be able to do the job properly and honestly, so as not to abuse the money entrusted to him or her.

This kind of document is not just for those who are well-off and may have complex financial matters. For example, we have one client of very limited income who didn’t want a financial power of attorney assigned. He subsequently lost (mental?) competence due to brain damage, and now his girlfriend and daughter are competing with each other to be the representative payee of his Social Security benefits. His daughter was somehow able to get his credit union to open a joint account with him. Whoever did the paperwork at the credit union clearly did not have a conversation with the man, or else he/she would have realized that the man is unable to make competent decisions. Will the daughter spend his money wisely? We don’t know yet, but a financial power of attorney could have assured that the person of his choice was put in charge.

Legal requirements for this kind of document vary from state to state. Talk with an attorney experienced in estate planning matters to learn more. The American Cancer Society has a tool that can help you find local organizations that offer free or low cost legal services to cancer patients. Search for “assistance” in your area and look under assistance-legal.


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