Power of Attorney: Planning for Incapacity

Powers of attorney let you plan for your incapacity.
A power of attorney names a person to make decisions for you under rules that you establish, and ensures someone can handle your affairs if you cannot.

Without a durable power of attorney, helping a family member or loved one who cannot act on their own becomes far more difficult and stressful. Powers of attorney, also known as POAs, typically give the agent specific powers to conduct the principal’s (person creating the power of attorney) financial business, explains the Aiken Standard in the article “The durable power of attorney.”

For financial powers of attorney, there are different types, including non-durable, springing and durable. A non-durable POA is time limited.  It either expires at the end of a set amount of time or upon the death or incapacity of the principal.  Non-durable powers of attorney are typically used for specific circumstances, such as real estate closings or for transferring car titles.

The durable power of attorney is in effect from the moment it is executed. It is not revoked if the person becomes incapacitated (hence the term “durable”), nor by the passage of time. The person can alter or terminate a durable POA at any time before he or she lacks capacity, however, and it does end when the person dies.

Springing powers of attorney become effective at a future date. They “spring” into power, according to the terms of the document. That may be the occurrence of a particular event, like the person becoming incapacitated or disabled. They can be problematic, as there will be a need to prove that the person has become incapacitated and/or disabled.

The advantage of the durable power of attorney is that it remains in effect even after the person has become impaired. You can choose to let your agent act right away or make it springing as described above.  It is often prudent to make them effective immediately so that if time is of the essence (i.e., there is an emergency that requires quick action), there is no need to prove incapacity or that a condition has occurred.

In addition to a financial POAs, there’s also a healthcare power of attorney, which is a separate document that gives the named person the authority to make medical decisions when the principal is not able to do so.  There are also several other documents which plan for incapacity, such as living wills and HIPAA releases, which should be considered as well.

In Texas, powers of attorney rules are strict, so how they are drafted is very specific.  They provide for many powers or restrictions to the agent which the principal should consider when preparing a power of attorney, such as whether his or her agent should be compensated, whether the agent can make gifts and naming successor agents if the first cannot serve.

Power of attorney documents should be created and executed, along with a complete estate plan, long before an individual begins having problems in aspects of their lives.  These documents are essential as part of planning for incapacity.  See my past article for more detailed information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-when-faced-with-a-serious-illness/

When they are signed, it is necessary for the person to have mental capacity. They have to be able to be “of sound mind.” If they have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is necessary that all these documents be prepared as soon as possible.

Without a durable power of attorney, family and friends won’t be able to make important financial decisions, pay bills, make healthcare decisions and engage in any kind of Medicaid planning. If a person does not create a power of attorney and then suffers a health problem which makes them unable to handle their own affairs, anyone who wanted to take on any of these responsibilities would have to go to court and be appointed the person’s guardian. It’s much easier to tackle these tasks in advance, so that the family can act on their loved one’s behalf in a timely and effective manner.

Reference: Aiken Standard (August 24, 2019) “The durable power of attorney”