What you need to know about power of attorney documents

A gavel rests on a Power of Attorney document
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Dear Liz: My husband has Parkinson’s disease and is showing early signs of dementia. I’ve been advised to get a financial power of attorney. If all of our accounts are joint, is this necessary? What will that do for me?

Answer: A power of attorney gives you the authority to make decisions on your husband’s behalf. You wouldn’t need one to pay the bills from your joint accounts, but this document could be invaluable if you wanted to take action on jointly held property, such as selling a car or house or refinancing a mortgage. Otherwise, you might have to go to court to get a guardianship, which can be expensive.

Please don’t wait. For the document to be valid, your husband needs to be able to understand what a power of attorney is and what it does. You’ll also need a power of attorney for healthcare, which is sometimes called a healthcare proxy or advanced directive, to make decisions regarding his medical care.


There are do-it-yourself options, but given your husband’s condition you may want to hire an experienced estate planning attorney who can offer personal guidance and help make sure the documents won’t be challenged.

While you’re creating these documents for your husband, please create a set for yourself. Estate planning attorneys say every adult should have powers of attorney for finances and for healthcare. It’s a good idea to name backup people in case your first choices can’t serve.

After you get a will or trust, where is the best place to store those documents? Spoiler: not in a bank safe deposit box.

Nov. 18, 2021

Look for a fee-only planner

Dear Liz: I am starting to receive marketing mailings from financial advisors inviting me to a free lunch or dinner to listen to annuity investment presentations. I went to one recently by a fee-based financial planner who told me he also acts as a broker when investing in annuities. He’s been pressuring me to invest all of my retirement funds into a fixed indexed annuity. Isn’t this a conflict of interest? I assume he gets paid by both me and a commission from the insurance company if he signs me up for this investment. Why do financial planners force annuities on seniors? Is it because they know they will also get commissions? Is it better to sign up with a fee-only financial planner? I’ve read that the fee-only planner will act only in my interest, not pushing investments that bring in a commission.

Answer: Yes, yes and yes.

Remember your folks telling you, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? Remember that the next time you get one of these offers for a “free” meal (or a timeshare presentation, for that matter), because you could end up paying dearly. These presentations are made by salespeople who can be really good at talking people into products that are not in their best interests.

A good advisor would never pressure you or suggest putting all your investment eggs in a single basket. Look instead for advice from a fee-only (not fee-based) financial advisor who will agree, in writing, to be a fiduciary, which means they’re committed to putting your interests ahead of their own.

There is a big difference between fee-only financial planners and fee-based financial planners. Also, look for a planner who is a fiduciary.

Nov. 4, 2021

Lump sum vs. annuity

Dear Liz: You recently answered a question about taking a lump sum retirement versus an ongoing pension. You didn’t mention that the pension will stop when the employee dies (whether it’s after 40 years or 40 days) or when the spouse dies (same thing) if that was chosen. The children get nothing. What about taking the lump sum and putting it in a fixed indexed annuity? Yes, there is a yearly fee, but then the money can continue to the spouse, children and on and on and on.


Answer: See above. There’s more than a single “yearly fee” with these annuities, which are complicated insurance products that tend to have high costs and pay high commissions to the advisors who recommend them. If you’re considering this investment, you should run it past a fee-only financial planner first.

Many people dislike the idea that an annuity stops when they do, which is why insurers are often willing to sell you — for an additional fee — a guarantee that something will be left over. There may be better, less expensive ways to leave a legacy, which a fee-only planner can discuss with you.

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at