Consider this: Who would make decisions for you if you were unable to? Think about it. Are you sure that person would make the right decisions for you? What decisions would they make? In a recent estate planning seminar I had a conversation with a young woman who was hospitalized the year before. She was in the hospital for several weeks. During a portion of the hospitalization she was unable to make medical decisions for herself and she could not take care of the business of paying her rent, bills, or making arrangements for her young son. This was an unexpected medical emergency for which she had not planned. She had no power of attorney in place that designated who would do these things for her if such circumstances were to arise, and so no one was properly positioned to help her.
Another situation that I am aware of that highlights the need to address these important questions occurred when a longtime partner of a man that I know became ill. His partner’s family would not let him have any say in her medical decisions once his partner became incapacitated because her family members were considered the next of kin and there was no power of attorney that designated who would make decisions for her. I’m certain that this is not what she wanted, but no one could be certain of her wishes because she had not written them down in a legally sufficient manner.
Both of these situations caused a great deal of stress, grief and turmoil for everyone involved and much of it could have been avoided in both situations had she written her intentions in a properly-drafted Power of Attorney.
So, what is a power of attorney?
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone the authority to make decisions and handle business on your behalf while you are alive. This person is called your attorney-in-fact (when handling financial and asset matters) and your patient advocate (when handling medical matters). This appointed individual can also be referenced as your “agent” in either document or capacity. It is important to remember, however, that financial and healthcare Powers of Attorney are only effective while you are alive. Click To Tweet Once you are gone, the Power of Attorney is terminated and the attorney-in-fact and patient advocate no longer have authority in that capacity to manage your affairs.Powers of Attorney can take on many different forms, serving multiple purposes. They can also grant authority and power in many different ways. Click To Tweet
- Limited Powers of Attorney – In a Limited Power of Attorney, the attorney-in-fact is given authority to act on your behalf for a specific purpose and usually for a limited amount of time. This person may be handling specific business for you while you are out of town, having surgery, etc.;
- General Power of Attorney – In a General Power of Attorney, the attorney-in-fact is given all the authority you have. A General Power of Attorney may be used when someone is still able to make decisions on their own but may need another person they designate to handle financial matters for them. The attorney-in-fact can sign documents for you. They can completely represent you in such matters for as long as you are alive.
- Durable Power of Attorney – A Power of Attorney is “Durable” when it continues even after you become incapacitated. This means that your attorney-in-fact will maintain the authority he/she has on your behalf even after you cannot make decisions for yourself. This particular Power of Attorney can be written to be limited in scope or general as described above.
- Springing Power of Attorney – In a Springing Power of Attorney, the authority to act on your behalf is given to your attorney-in-fact once you are incapacitated and only then. In “springs” into relevance if and only if you cannot make decisions for yourself. This is an important factor of this particular type of power of attorney because what is considered incapacitated can vary. Consequently, you need to make sure that the attorney that you hire to create your power of attorney is able to clearly describe what it means to be incapacitated to you and that definition is what is clearly described in your Springing Power of Attorney.
- Patient Advocate Designation and Healthcare Declaration – with a Patient Advocate Designation and Healthcare Declaration you are appointing the person that will handle medical matters and decisions for you (patient advocate), while also identifying your end of life and advanced directive decisions. Matters involving “resuscitation”, life support, organ donation, etc., is discussed in this document. Typically a healthcare declaration is drafted in a springing form so that no one can make these “life or death” decisions for you unless it has been determined that you are unable to do so on your own behalf.
One thing that is for sure is that life happens and at any moment you may need someone to have the authority to act on your behalf Click To Tweet Consequently, everyone 18 years of age and older needs to have a Power of Attorney regardless of assets and family make up. Without a valid Power of Attorney in place no one knows your wishes, no one has authority to handle business on your behalf, and no one can make decisions for your without probate court authorization.
At The TGQ Law Firm we have years of experience helping people identify what they need and helping them get those needs met. Call us today to dot every “i” and cross every “t” and to make sure you have a Power of Attorney in place. We are here to help.
For more information regarding Powers of Attorney please visit HERE to view a brief video wherein our firm President, Terrence G. Quinn, Esq., discusses Powers of Attorney in greater detail.
If you have additional questions, contact us today to set up a consultation.