As the disease worsened, his sleeping pattern got out of whack. He’d be up all night watching infomercials and surfing the net. Things my parents didn’t need would arrive at the house. Sometimes my father would argue that he did need some of these items, but in time he wouldn’t have any recollection of ordering them at all.

Mom first lowered the credit limit on his cards, so if he bought something unneeded, the amount to deal with would be less. Eventually, she had to shut down his credit cards completely.

In time, Mom also removed him as a co-trustee for their living trust. The document simply required a letter from two doctors to remove him. It kept him from being able to access the brokerage accounts, write checks or do any online banking. No court hearings, legal fuss or costs were necessary.

The non-financial documents worked well too. When my sister arrived at my father’s hospice, she had an instantaneous and negative reaction to the news he was not being fed. Mind you, she knew he was not expected to live more than a few days and that there was no hope of recovery. But she thought the lack of nourishment was cruel.

His living will was a huge help to her and the rest of us in this matter. The document read, “if I have a terminal condition; or I have an end-stage condition; or I am in a persistent vegetative state; and if my attending physician and another consulting physician have determined that there is no reasonable medical probability of my recovery from such condition, I direct that life-prolonging procedures be withheld or withdrawn when the application of such procedures would serve only to prolong artificially the process of dying, and that I be permitted to die naturally with only the administration of medication or the performance of any medical procedure deemed necessary to provide me with comfort care or alleviate pain.”

The definitions of terms in the document were equally clear. So was this sentence: “It is my intention that this declaration be honored by my family and physician as the final expression of my legal right to refuse medical or surgical treatment and to accept the consequences for such refusal.”

The document quickly turned my sister’s thinking from what was being “done to Dad” to “What did Dad want?” The statement of his intent and request for his family to honor his wishes transformed the whole matter into one that brought peace to my sister and the rest of us.

This scene might seem familiar to readers. But the reality of how it all went down isn’t nearly as tidy as these words describe it.

Those banking changes happened over time, and at each stage Mom had the same argument with the bank. My parents had been bank customers for 30 years. The personnel at the branch knew them and knew early on of Dad’s diagnosis. They were very nice, but they also did not have the authority to accept the power of attorney. Each attempted use of the document was met with an approval process that took far too long.

I understand that institutions should not blindly accept the validity of such documents, but the red tape was too much. The bank rightly was looking after Dad’s rights but it was also leaving my mother vulnerable as it covered its own behind. Other institutions were easier to deal with. The power of attorney is an important document, but its usability will vary from place to place, and clients need to be prepared for this.