Can a step-niece legally take over as Dad's power of attorney and receive his social security benefis?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 24, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can a step niece legally take over power of attorney in my dad's medical decisions and get his social security monies. I am concerned that if this happens, my mom will be unable to collect on my dad's social security once he passes away. My dad's side of the family is in disagreement on our decision on future treatment. The step niece has offered my dad a home after he leaves rehab. We were told that my dad is terminal because he has a large mass in his colon and his very weakened heart surgery and or chemo is not an option. According to the step niece the doctors told her and my dad that he was much improved. My mom is unable to take care of my dad if he were to come home and their home is not in good condition for him to come home.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Your question really has a few different parts.

As long as your dad has the mental capacity to makes decisions and to understand legal documents, he is free to make a power of attorney naming any person he chooses to act as his agent. Given the disagreements that seem to be brewing among family members, you might encourage your dad to do this, just to get his wishes clearly in writing.

That might take care of the legalities, but it won't ensure that that the potentially feuding sides of the family will communicate with one another. Stress and angst will only make things worse. Considering your dad's apparent weakened condition, you will want to be sure that there is a good information exchange between the step-niece if she does become primary caregiver"”and your mom or his other closest relatives. If you can't come up with a way to work this out, consider enlisting the help of a family mediator who can help you all reach some sort of agreement while you all make sure your dad gets the best care possible.

As for Social Security benefits, only surviving spouses and children are entitled to collect benefits; the step-niece would not be. If you want some assurance about this, consider calling the Social Security Administration and talking with a counselor there confidentially. You can find contact information at: