By Myka Landry
Powers of attorney are documents that allow you to appoint people to handle your affairs while you are alive but unable or unwilling to make decisions for yourself. The most common are general durable (financial) and medical durable (healthcare) powers of attorney.
A general durable power of attorney designates someone to handle your financial affairs if you are alive but unable to do so. This document should be fairly detailed to make sure the person you appoint does, in fact, have the power to do what they need to do.
A medical durable power of attorney designates someone to make medical decisions for you. It can include instructions as to what kind of treatment you want and in what circumstances.
The people you choose to fulfill these roles should be chosen carefully. They should be people you trust and who are able to handle the responsibility of making decisions for you.
Once you have selected your designees and their back-up agents, take the time to discuss your wishes with them so they will know exactly what your decision would be if you could make it. In order to act for you, your agent will need a signed copy of the document. You also want someone to know where the original is located in case it is needed.
If you don’t have any current powers of attorney, I recommend that you set up an appointment with an attorney to get the process started. I would also like to warn against using low-cost powers of attorney that some lawyers provide.
A quick, $25 power of attorney may not give you the powers you need. There have been tragic situations where someone has a valid power of attorney, but it does not contain the provisions needed for designees or agents to do what they need to do.
State law is very specific about the language that must be included, and a “blanket” power of attorney is not precise. For example, I have encountered situations where the document did not give agents the power to create trusts, to apply for government benefits, to enter into specific types of contracts, or to gift or change ownership or beneficiary designations. You may not think you need these powers now, but there are times when these powers are essential. Often you will not know you need them until it is too late.
For that reason, it is important that you know what powers you may need and why to make sure your power of attorney is sufficient to accomplish your goals. If your document does not contain a power that you end up needing, you may have to go through an expensive and intrusive court process to be able to do what you need to do. This will be much more expensive, both financially and emotionally, than having the power of attorney done right the first time.