We want to address a practical question we receive fairly often from clients and the family of clients. This question is “If I’m in the hospital what does my child need to do to pay bills for me?” In this blog I am focusing specifically on the Power of Attorney, however, if you have questions about using the advance health care directive please check out our post on that here.
When a power of attorney is needed it means the individual who created the power of attorney, Dad in this case, is unable to handle his finances. Now, this could be for a multitude of reasons, maybe he is out of the country for an extended period of time, maybe he unexpectedly had to go to the hospital, whatever the case he isn’t able to pay his bills and you are his agent.
For practical reasons my first tip to power of attorney agents, especially if you are only stepping into this role temporarily, is don’t notify Dad’s bank immediately. Now this may seem counterintuitive, but notifying the bank can cause some unnecessary obstacles, sometimes banks will freeze accounts and impede your ability to step in on behalf of Dad seamlessly. As the power of attorney agent, you have the official paperwork, you do not need a bank’s permission to handle financial affairs on behalf of Dad if he is unable to act.
The best way to pay bills while Dad is unable to is to use his checkbook and when paying bills you will sign the checks “Joe Smith, by his attorney in fact Sally Smith.” The other way you can pay dad’s bills is to access his online banking accounts. If you have the ability to sign in as your dad you use online bill pay. It is in your best interest to track all payments made on Dad’s behalf while you are acting as his agent. A third way to assist dad with paying his bills if he is in the hospital and still cognitive is for you to physically take the bills and checkbook into Dad, write the checks for him and have him sign the checks.
Again these tips are for a situation where you need to temporarily act as a Power of Attorney Agent to handle bills in the short term. If this is a long-term type of situation you should contact an estate planning attorney to get a better understanding of your role. In this situation, you are a legal fiduciary for Dad and there are responsibilities and legal consequences if you don’t properly manage this role.