Yesterday at the San Diego Parent Connection Swap Meet, a woman asked me about setting up a Durable Power of Attorney for Property Management for her elderly father.  He already has a Living Will (he lives in Hawaii). 

Which brings me to today’s subject:  As a senior, what documents do I need to prepare in case I become incapacitated and can’t make my own financial or health care decisions?  Of course, everyone should have these documents, not just seniors – incapacity can strike at any age for a multitude of reasons: accident; illness, etc.


The Durable Power of Attorney (Probate Code §4022) is a document you can sign while you still have capacity, which will grant powers to another person (your agent) to handle your financial affairs.  We call it “Durable” because it can still be used if you become incapacitated (Probate Code §4124).  It “survives” the incapacity of the grantor of the powers.  A normal power of attorney will cease acting if you become incapacitated – that’s a built-in safeguard, since you wouldn’t be able to revoke the power yourself. 

So with a Durable Power of Attorney, someone you trust (someone you really  trust) can handle your affairs for you: pay your mortgage; file your taxes; re-finance your home; apply for disability benefits; etc.  Your agent won’t be able to take anything of yours as a gift with your your specific written authorization (Probate Code §4128).  If you pass away, the powers cease – at that time your Executor (under a Will) or Successor Trustee (under a Trust) would handle financial affairs of your estate.

Be absolutely certain that your named agent is both competent and trustworthy!  Seniors have lost their savings to unscrupulous agents – even to agents who are family members.


With an Advance Health Care Directive, you name someone to make medical decisions for you if your primary care physician certifies that you can no longer make decisions for yourself.  Why would that happen?  It could be due to an injury or dementia (whether due to a chronic condition like Alzheimer’s or a temporary condition such as the result of medications).

Additionally, you can provide detailed instructions regarding medical care, including: life support treatment; convalescent care; organ donation; etc. 

Either of these documents can be revoked at any time, as long as you are still competent.   Give copies to your designated agents, doctor, nursing home, and family.  And if you’re admitted to a hospital, bring a copy of your advance health care directive with you.

If you don’t complete these documents, it may be necessary to appoint a Conservator to care for you in the future.  Consult an experienced attorney with any questions!