What exactly does it mean to grant “power of attorney”? It’s normal to become more curious about this as we age, even though nobody wants to think about a day when they may no longer be able to make conscious decisions about their own well being. Fortunately, by creating a valid power of attorney document now you can determine who can make important legal decisions should the unexpected happen and you are no longer able to do so. Here’s what you need to know:
Before we delve further, here are some terms you should be aware of. These terms will likely come up during the process of creating your legal power of attorney documents (and your living will, to be discussed later on), so it is a good idea to become familiar with them ahead of time.
- Principal — The initial or primary legal authority. If you are looking to create a power of attorney document for yourself, this refers to you.
- Attorney-in-Fact — The person to whom you are granting legal authority in designated situations. This person can also be referred to as the “agent” or “proxy”.
- Specific Power of Attorney Document — When it comes to the different kinds of documents, this one refers to one that only grants the attorney-in-fact legal authority over one designated responsibility. This can be anything from running a business to selling property.
- Durable Power of Attorney Document — This type of document grants power of attorney for a specific range of related tasks. There are generally two different types of durable power of attorney documents: financial and health.
- General Power of Attorney Document — Just as its name suggests, this document grants power of attorney to an agent for all general purposes, from financial to healthcare-related and a lot of things in between.
- Incapacitated — In this context, “incapacitated” refers to a person being no longer mentally or physically able to make important decisions
How Power of Attorney Works
In order to create your power of attorney documents, you will first and foremost need to determine the person or attorney-in-fact you would like to make legal decisions on your behalf. It is important to point out here that certain states do have laws restricting who can hold power of attorney for someone else. That said, in most cases, this person is a trusted spouse or another close family member, although there are some situations in which it is a trusted friend or associate. Regardless, it is still a good idea to have at least one other trusted individual who personally knows the agent and is also familiar with the power of attorney documents. It is also wise to enlist the help of an actual attorney to help ensure that the agent does not act beyond the power granted to them.
With this in mind, it is important to discuss the fact that the agent does not automatically get all legal power when it comes to your affairs. Instead, you must be deemed incapacitated either physically or mentally by a physician or otherwise meet the pre-set requirements that would prevent you from acting on your own behalf. The agent then only has the designated legal power that has been outlined in the power of attorney document– they are prohibited from acting on anything not included in that. In many states, power of attorney documents must be notarized or signed in front of a witness in order for them to be considered valid. If you have residences in multiple states or simply have legal affairs in multiple states, you may require multiple power of attorney documents.
A Living Will is Also a Necessity
Now, in addition to your power of attorney documents you should create a living will, which you’ll also hear referred to as “advance directives” documents. Unlike power of attorney documents, your living will itself does not directly grant someone power over your legal affairs. However, it can nevertheless direct what is to be done with your healthcare plan or treatment should you become incapacitated (for example, what would you want done should you wind up in a coma?) Likewise, you will also need to determine what is to be done with your financial assets in this situation or any ongoing business dealings you may have. Basically, a power of attorney document can be included with your living will, but it should not be used in place of it (or vice versa). Just like a power of attorney document, however, your living will may also need to be notarized or signed by a witness depending on your state.
Protect Your Future By Taking Action Today
Nobody knows exactly what the coming years will bring, and this uncertainty can certainly be daunting at times. However, by taking the time now to go over power of attorney documents and potential scenarios in which they may become active, you are taking active control over your own future. When you’re ready, give our offices a call. We’re happy to help you go over any existing power of attorney documents or create entirely new ones. By taking action now, you’ll save yourself and your loved ones a lot of stress and confusion later on.