Many families on the senior care journey understand “power of attorney” and why it’s important. POA is a crucial legal document that grants someone the authority to make decisions on behalf of a senior when the senior is unable to do so. POA is an essential tool in elder care, but there are other authorization tools seniors and their families should understand. Certain federal entities like the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security, and Medicare, and some banks may not accept POA on its own.

Keep reading to learn more about the authorizations and documents that may be needed beyond a typical POA to ensure you or a senior loved one receives necessary care and the support they deserve. These authorizations ensure that professionals and organizations are willing to engage with you regarding your loved one’s financial matters, government benefits, and more.

Power of Attorney: What it Means for Seniors and Their Caregivers

Elder law attorneys stress the importance of both medical and financial powers of attorney for most seniors and their family caregivers. There are many different kinds of power of attorney, which is a document empowers a person, known as the principal, to designate an individual, referred to as the agent, who can legally make decisions on their behalf. Without these legal preparations, caregivers would have no effective means to advocate for their care recipients in the event of their incapacitation.

Not all POAs are created equal. The wording of these documents can significantly influence the specific actions an agent can or cannot take on the principal’s behalf, as well as when these powers come into effect and cease. If the POA documents for healthcare and finances aren’t crafted with meticulous care, family caregivers may encounter challenges when trying to utilize them to manage a senior loved one’s care.

When preparing power of attorney documents, whether you as the family caregiver are the designated agent or are appointing one, engage in a thorough discussion with the assisting attorney. Pose numerous “what if” scenarios to grasp the authorities conferred by the document and any limitations imposed. Specifically inquire about the criteria that must be met, if any, for the agent named in the POA to act on the principal’s behalf.

How to Deal with Entities That Don’t Accept POA

While a POA may appear to be the all-encompassing legal document for caregivers and seniors, this is rarely the case. For instance, many third parties, such as banks, may hesitate to accept financial POAs due to concerns about potential liability in the event the document is found to be invalid.

According to AARP, some reasons for a bank rejecting a POA are 1) it’s extremely old, 2) it doesn’t meet state requirements for language or how it’s signed, 3) it’s not durable, 4) individuals who signed the POA must appear in person at the bank, 5) the bank requires its own POA form be used, 6) additional documentation is required.

Financial institutions typically require time to validate the legitimacy of a POA for finances and may even consult with the attorney who drafted it. In some instances, they might request that the agent provide an affidavit—a sworn written statement—affirming their lawful actions, which can absolve the third party of any liability. As long as the agent acts in the principal’s best interests and within their granted authority (fulfilling their fiduciary duty), any issues usually revolve around the bureaucratic nature of this process rather than legal disputes.

Other Authorizations That May be Requested for Managing a Senior Loved One’s Care

Social Security Authorized Representative

The Social Security Administration (SSA) mandates that representatives be authorized to engage in a beneficiary’s affairs but doesn’t recognize the POA designation. If you’re assisting a loved one with Social Security matters, such as applications, claims, or appeals, you must apply to be their authorized representative using the SSA-1696 Appointment of Representative Form. This application can also be completed online. The SSA rigorously evaluates the qualifications of the representative before accepting their appointment, which can be a relative, friend, attorney, caseworker, or other qualified individual.

Social Security Representative Payee

To aid a Social Security beneficiary in managing their retirement benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must become their representative payee. This role comes with significant responsibilities, including meticulous recordkeeping of the beneficiary’s benefits and their use. In situations where there are no available family or friends to serve as a “rep payee,” the SSA appoints a qualified organization to manage the benefits.

VA Fiduciary

Managing a loved one’s veterans benefits involves another distinct process. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a POA for finances alone isn’t sufficient authorization for handling a veteran’s monetary benefits. If a physician or court determines a veteran (or surviving spouse) incapable of managing their finances, the VA calls for the appointment of a fiduciary. The beneficiary typically selects the individual to serve in this role, subject to a thorough vetting by the VA. In cases where suitable family or friends aren’t available, the VA appoints a qualified professional fiduciary or organization. Similar to the SSA rep payee program, VA fiduciaries must maintain detailed transaction records and provide accounting to the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Medicare Authorizations

Medicare cannot divulge personal health information to a family caregiver unless the beneficiary provides written authorization to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) or grants verbal permission. While beneficiaries may answer basic questions over the phone, providing authorization for caregivers to discuss coverage details, having a standing authorization on file with Medicare is prudent. The “1-800-MEDICARE Authorization” Form can be completed over the phone with the assistance of a customer service representative or by mailing in a hard copy. Mailing the paper form may result in a few weeks’ delay before authorization is granted.

Additionally, if you intend to help a Medicare beneficiary file an appeal, complaint, or request a coverage determination, you must be officially appointed as their representative, using the Medicare Appointment of Representative form (CMS-1696). Private insurance companies may also have their own versions of these forms, so it’s essential to inquire about their specific authorization requirements.

Be Proactive About Family Caregiver Documentation

Family caregivers may find it beneficial to invest in a printer, scanner, and/or fax machine. You’ll often require additional copies of POAs and other documents to demonstrate your legal authority to access sensitive information, communicate with important entities, and make decisions regarding your loved one’s care and finances.

Don’t be surprised if your authorizations face scrutiny even after presenting a stack of documents to nursing home staff or bank managers. Individuals and organizations are understandably cautious about situations where boundaries are unclear. Medical and financial information is highly sensitive, and seniors are vulnerable to manipulation and elder abuse. While the paperwork can be tedious, these policies and safeguards serve a crucial purpose. It’s your responsibility to ensure you possess the right documents.

When advocating for yourself or your senior loved one, remember that many issues can be resolved through goodwill, clear explanations, and reasonable inquiries directed to the appropriate individuals. When in doubt, request to speak with a supervisor. If that isn’t possible, or if rational discussion proves ineffective, don’t hesitate to exercise your right to contact your legal counsel, a political representative, or a relevant bureaucrat overseeing the person, organization, or industry in question.

Assuming responsibility for a senior loved one’s well-being is a complex and monumental task. Make sure you understand your rights as a family caregiver, your care recipient’s rights, and your responsibilities in the matters at hand. The sooner you and your loved one establish all the necessary documents, the less likely you are to encounter obstacles along the way.