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When a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney Disagree

A Place for Mom Staff
By A Place for Mom StaffJune 10, 2019

When Dad and Mom named you health care proxy and your sibling power of attorney, the division of responsibilities and roles seemed wise. What happens, however, when your sibling won’t open the purse strings to pay for the care you think your parents need?

Learn more about how to prevent conflict and what you can do to resolve a situation where a health care proxy and power of attorney disagree.

Dividing Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney Duties

According to Patricia Maisano, chief innovation officer and founder of IKOR International, an advocacy and life management organization for seniors and individuals with disabilities, this kind of conflict is an all-too-common occurrence.

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Parents divide responsibilities equally in an effort to be fair, but they don’t realize how problematic a decision that can be.

“It’s rare that we ever see adult children agreeing with each other,” says Maisano on the subject of senior care. That’s why she considers the separation of powers a “recipe for disaster.”

Healthcare Proxy and Power of Attorney Responsibilities

First, it’s helpful to understand the difference between a health care proxy (also known as health care agent, health care power of attorney, health care representative or medical power of attorney) and a power of attorney.

Basically, these are the people appointed to make decisions in the event that you become incapacitated. A health care proxy has the authority to make medical decisions and a power of attorney has the authority to make financial decisions. So while a health care proxy may choose a senior living community, the power of attorney must release the funds to pay for it.

The problem, of course, comes when the health care proxy and the power of attorney can’t see eye to eye. At that point, the proper care of Dad and Mom becomes a legal matter.

Unfortunately, this option drains valuable energy, money and time and rarely goes the way you want it to, says Maisano.

In fact, when you tell a court that your sibling is not a good power of attorney — and that you would be a better candidate — the court will see the “handwriting on the wall” and take it away from both of you, she explains. The court will then appoint a third-party guardian to make decisions in your place.

Preventing Conflict Between a Healthcare Proxy and Power of Attorney

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In order to avoid this kind of sibling conflict and potential legal proceedings, Maisano recommends parents appoint one person to act as both a financial and medical power of attorney.

Though that’s the simplest solution, your situation is not necessarily doomed if the powers are shared. In that case, you can prevent squabbles by asking your parents to outline their wishes in advance.

“It’s very helpful if an individual makes a written statement about what they want and gives that to a third party,” affirms Maisano.

Within that statement, it’s important to include medical decisions, such as whether they’d like to age in place or move to a senior living community, as well as financial decisions, such as who should get which pieces of family heirlooms or jewelry. This kind of written narrative can help you and your siblings avoid disagreements because you will know exactly what your parents want. If your parents do this sooner rather than later, they can make determinations “without the angst of emergency,” says Maisano.

In the end, you don’t want your parents to suffer because of sibling squabbles. Take these proactive steps so you can keep the peace and secure the best financial and medical outcomes for Dad and Mom.

About the Author

Robyn Tellefsen is a New York City-based freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience and hundreds of bylined articles. Her work has appeared on Chase, MSN, OurParents, Parent Society, SoFi, The CollegeBound Network and others.

Has your family struggled with disagreements between a health care proxy and power of attorney?We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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