Does power of attorney make me responsible for medical bills?

Jeannie-1 asked...

My mother lives in a group home for mentally ill people. She shares a tiny half of a room with another woman for the sum of her SSI check. She manages her own funds. Her health is getting worse and she just turned 70 years old. If I get her to sign a medical power of attorney does it mean I will be responsible for her medical bills if she is moved to a nursing home? Since she won't leave there, can I take a power of attorney form to her and have it notarized later? Do I have the right after the medical power of attorney to find a better placement for her?

Expert Answer

Having your mother execute a power of attorney for health care allows you to make decisions for her about her medical care, but doesn't make you financially responsible for her medical or long-term care. To lawfully execute the document, your mother must be mentally competent and her signature should be notarized. To do that, she has to go to a notary, or you have to arrange for a notary to go to her – you can't have your mother's signature notarized later.

Getting a medical power of attorney doesn't permit you to make decisions about where your mother lives, except to have her transferred somewhere – a hospital, rehabilitation center, or nursing facility -- for a short time to receive medical care. If your mother also executes a power of attorney for finances, that could permit you to help her make arrangements for a move to a different long-term care residence facility, and to transfer her SSI check to the new place.

Both a power of attorney for health care and a power of attorney for finances should specifically state that it's "durable." This means that your authority to make medical and financial decisions will continue if and when your mother becomes incompetent to make decisions for herself. If the documents your mother executes don't give you enough legal authority to move her after she becomes incompetent, you may have to go to court to establish a conservatorship or adult guardianship.