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”

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Power of Attorney: Why It Is Important

Don't wait to create a power of attorney.
Don’t wait to create a power of attorney.

Unfortunately, you never know when a power of attorney will be needed to allow someone else to make financial and medical decisions for you. An accident or sudden illness can occur without warning. A power of attorney is a necessary document if your are too ill, injured, or lack the mental capacity to make your own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are two basic power of attorney documents or “POA’s”: one for making financial decisions and one for making medical decisions. A financial POA may be effective immediately or when a doctor certifies that you are unable to handle your financial affairs. A medical POA  becomes effective when you cannot communicate a medical decision. Until then, you are completely in charge of decisions related to your medical care.

If you don’t have a POA and you are unable to make financial and medical decisions for yourself, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding to make decisions for you. This is an expensive and time consuming process and the outcome may not be what you would have wanted.

Anyone over the age of 18 should have a financial and medical power of attorney. Many parents start realizing this when their children go off to college. Parents are often surprised and frustrated when they find out that, because their college age children are considered adults, the parents no longer have access to their children’s financial and medical information, not even in an emergency.  That’s why our next client education seminar on June 26 is devoted to what estate planning documents students need to have in place before they go off to college. (See our website at www.galliganmanning.com for more details and information on how to register.)

While it’s never too early for a person 18 years of age or older to have medical and financial powers of attorney in place, you could wait until it’s too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. We often see this when children of aging parents contact us in a panic because their parents never executed powers of attorney. If the aging parent lacks capacity and cannot sign a POA, the family is faced with the need to pursue a guardianship.

You should work with an estate planning attorney to create the powers of attorney you need.  An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor your POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select.

Review your POA’s at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of your financial and medical matters, if the need should ever arise.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have powers of attorney created for you. They are even more important than a Will because the powers of attorney affect your care while you are alive.

Learn more about powers of attorney and other estate planning documents.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

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