Can a power of attorney give me the ability to make any decisions on behalf of my spouse?

Floralgirl1960 asked...

Is power of attorney the ability to make any decisions on behalf of a spouse? My husband is unable to make decisions for himself.

Expert Answer

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 guess was right: A power of attorney generally empowers a person to make decisions for another person. There are two types of powers of attorney: one that pertains to finances, and the other to medical care.

A power of attorney for finances is a document in which a person, or sometimes an institution such as a bank or trust company, is designated to handle another person's financial affairs.

In a power of attorney for health care, a specific person can be given the legal authority to make sure your patient's wishes for medical care are followed, or can make all other decisions related to that care.

Unfortunately, however, a person must be of legally sound mind to validly appoint another to serve as his or her agent in both these types of powers of attorney. And it sounds as if your husband may no longer be able to complete these documents.

If that is the case, you may need to undertake a slightly more complicated legal procedure, and ask a local court to appoint you as your husband's guardian or conservator. To be appointed, you would first need to file papers with the court, clearly describing your husband's physical or mental condition and inability to make decisions.

First contact your local probate court for help; many of them have very specific self-help centers or will help provide free or inexpensive help to those seeking an adult guardian or conservatorship.

If you want to hire a lawyer for help, begin your search by contacting the local bar association and asking whether it has a lawyer referral service that includes those who specialize in conservatorships or elder law. You can also contact the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys for a referral to its members in your area.