I was sitting at a kitchen table with the usually family tableau: Mom, Dad (who is far gone into dementia) and the eldest daughter. Mom and Dad owned a long term care policy and they had hit a bump or two in getting the claim going and getting moved into the assisted living.
The problem to me was clear at a glance: Mom had signed her name on all of Dad’s documents. I took a deep breath and explained the problem. The Mom (let’s call her “Shirley” – not her name, but it will do) said somewhat affronted, “I have been married to that man for 45 years and taken care of him the last 12. I think I can sign for him if I want to!”
“No. I said, not legally. If you sign his name you are guilty of forging his signature and if you sign your name on his behalf no one will recognize it without a legal Power of Attorney document giving you the authority to sign for him.”
Shirley looked perplexed for a moment and said, “Well, we’ll just have him sign his name, he might be able to do that.”
I sighed again. “Shirley,” I said, “you are trying to make a claim on his long term care policy that he is not mentally capable of caring for himself – which by default means he isn’t able to sign his name. If you have him sign his name, the carrier may question whether he truly is able to care for himself and therefore not need the policy to pay for someone to care for him.”
Shirley was quite frustrated at this point and said, “But I don’t have a Power of Attorney document.”
“Who does?” I asked — hoping that there was a document at all (if not, this family was in deep trouble because now they would have to get a Conservatorship through the courts!).
“My daughter is the Power of Attorney,” Shirley replied.
“Good!” I was much relieved on their behalf. “Your daughter can sign for him then so long as we include a copy of the Power of Attorney document”
That settled the issue and gave us a working solution. But I could tell Shirley wasn’t happy. She had, after all, been married to him for many years and his primary care giver for the last several. But time, nor love, nor dedication are what give us the ability to make decisions or sign for another person. Only a Power of Attorney that specifically gives financial and medical directions can do that.
If you are over 18 and don’t have a Power of Attorney Document drawn up – it is time. No one can step into your shoes if you are incapacitated unless you do give that authority in writing to another person. And while it may not happen to you for many years (as with Shirley and her husband), it might also happen to you tomorrow as you drive your car…