Durable power of attorney: It’s a matter of trust

All of us in New Jersey just got a harsh, harsh lesson in preparing for emergencies. As my family and I left for the warmth (and hot showers at the homes) of family in Delaware, folks without a place to crash were left to fend for themselves as they tried to outlast the effects of Super Storm Sandy.


Where I live in Pennington, NJ, we were mostly out of power for one week, but I have friends and neighbors who were getting by without power for much longer than that.

Since moving into the apartment in town (a fun story all by itself), I’ve tried to keep an eye on the elderly woman who lives in the apartment below us. In part I was concerned that my 9 and 6 year old boys were running a bit too much for her liking, but also, I know that she lives alone. (I also know she loves to run the heat so high that it causes us to run the air conditioning, even when it’s 40 degrees outside.)

I was happy to see that her walker was gone from in front of her door during the storm, which meant that she probably went to go stay with family too. But it got me thinking what would have happened if she stayed, and needed help.

While being able to withstand the power of nature unleashed is probably impossible and a job for the government, making plans for dealing with the kinds personal emergencies that can arise is the duty of the individual.

For the elderly, this entails making contingencies for that most painful of possibilities, that of incapacity. For many, this involves finding someone in their lives in whom they can place a great deal of trust.

“Most people know they should have a will so their estate can be administered and distributed to beneficiaries promptly and efficiently upon their death,” according to an article on the website of the Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly. “Unfortunately, many people fail to plan adequately for lifetime disability that leaves them unable to legally handle their business, financial and personal affairs. The durable power of attorney allows you to choose who will be in control of your affairs, should you be unable to act on your own behalf, eliminating the need for the courts to appoint a guardian.”

Consider it making a decision, and an important one, before you can no longer make decisions at all.

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