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A power of attorney is an important and powerful document

Giving someone power of attorney (POA) is something you can't take lightly. If you're the person who has been given that responsibility, it's important to understand what you can and cannot do. It's also vital to know when a person can or cannot be appointed to the position.

The law requires anyone appointing a POA to be competent. If your mother or father appoints you as a POA but suffers from dementia, Alzheimer's disease or other mental health conditions, he or she will need to be proven competent to do so. If he or she is not, then you may not be able to take over that position.

It's for that reason that it's important to choose a POA early on. If someone waits until he or she is in need of a POA, it may be too late. At that point, the courts may appoint someone to take care of the person's health care decisions and estate.

What can you do with a POA?

If you have a POA, you do get to make decisions in the best interests of your parent's estate. For instance, you retain the right to access bank accounts, pay bills and otherwise take care of the estate, but you can't drain the estate's assets because of negligence or intentional misconduct. Doing so would be irresponsible and illegal.

Since there is a risk of a POA making bad decisions for an estate, it's important to choose a good POA early on. The person needs to understand his or her role and be business savvy to protect the person who created the POA to begin with.

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