I saved this NYT article for a rainy day. Finding Out Your Power of Attorney Is Powerless describes situations where families had a financial institution reject a power of attorney subsequent to the principal becoming incapacitated with dementia or Alzheimer’s. My family had a similar experience recently when my mother-in-law had to be admitted to a rehab facility after a nasty fall. The reality is that financial institutions and hospitals prepare power of attorney forms that build in extra protections for themselves. If a person has a health care power of attorney and is incapacitated when brought to the hospital, the hospital is not going to reject the patient’s form. But as the NYT article reports, financial institutions do not hesitate to reject a POA if the client is now incapacitated. To avoid this situation, the POA principal should take his/her document to the financial institution when he or she still has capacity. The POA principal can give the bank or brokerage firm a “take it or I leave” demand. If the bank will not accept and acknowledge that acceptance of the POA in writing, the principal can take his business to a firm that will honor the POA.
In the context of death care, if the POA principal wants to give the agent the authority to direct his/her funeral, then the principal needs to take the POA form to the funeral home. Not all power of attorney forms include the requisite language for controlling a final disposition. Depending on the state where the principal resides, the applicable law may require the right of sepulcher language to be in a durable POA, and then either in a health care POA or a financial POA. So, to avoid the situations described in the NYT article, the POA principal will need to take his/her document to banks, hospitals and funeral homes to ensure those entities will honor the document when it is truly needed.