Legal Terms For Older Adults and Family Caregivers

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Power of Attorney

A written document in which you give another person the authority to act on your behalf in the areas of finances and/or health care. This document allows you to grant very specific or very broad powers to the other person (your “agent”) and is signed by you voluntarily without involvement of the court. A simple power of attorney document becomes invalid once it is revoked by you, or upon your death or incompetency. 

Durable Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney document that includes language allowing it to continue in effect –or activating it - upon your incapacity.  It is best to have a lawyer draw up your Durable Power of Attorney document so as to comply with state law, however no court hearing is involved. The Durable Power of Attorney document may be activated when one or more physicians document your inability to make informed decisions for yourself.

Living Will

A document that contains your wishes concerning the use of artificial means to save or prolong your life, such as CPR, a ventilator and nutrition and fluids administered through a vein, or through a tube inserted into the stomach or nose. This document applies in the event that you become terminally ill, or are in a persistent coma, and unable to verbally make your wishes known to others.

A Living Will supplements the Health Care Power of Attorney document by providing your agent and your doctors with a means to understand and honor your personal wishes.

Representative Payee

A person appointed by the Social Security Administration to receive and manage the monthly Social Security pension of a dependent adult or child. A physician’s statement of incapacity is required for a payee to be appointed for an adult.

Conservator

A person appointed by the court to manage your financial affairs if you are judged to be incapable of doing so yourself. Conservatorship may be necessary if you have not executed a durable power of attorney for finances prior to becoming incapacitated. An attorney must be consulted to prepare the legal paperwork and to file a petition seeking a court hearing. A physician must certify that you are temporarily or permanently unable to managing your financial affairs and evidence must be produced that you have property or assets that would be wasted or misused unless managed by someone else.  

Guardian

A person appointed by the court to make decisions about your health care and personal well-being if you are judged to be incapable of doing so yourself. Guardian-ship may be necessary if you have not designated a durable power of attorney for health care prior to becoming incapacitated. An attorney must be consulted to prepare the legal paperwork and to file a petition seeking a court hearing. A physician must certify that you are temporarily or permanently unable to make informed decisions about your health care and personal well-being.  

Additional Information About Guardianship and Conservatorship:

A family member is usually appointed to be a Conservator or Guardian, but a friend, an attorney or another person may be appointed.

You have the legal right to retain an attorney to challenge a Conservatorship or Guardianship petition.

Conservatorship or Guardianship may be limited, allowing you to retain control over specific financial or personal matters.

One person may serve as both Conservator and Guardian when both are needed, or these duties may be assigned to different persons.

The Conservator and Guardian must pay the initial court filing fee, plus a yearly bonding fee. These fees may be waived at the discretion of the judge. The conservator must also provide an annual accounting to the court of how your assets are spent.

*This sheet contains general information only. It is not meant to substitute for professional legal counsel. Please consult an attorney to discuss your specific legal situation

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