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Learn more about Power of Attorney

If you want to assign someone (an agent) to manage your personal and business responsibilities when you are away or incapacitated, assigning a Power of Attorney (POA) can make that happen for you. Legally creating a Power of Attorney document is simple and enforceable when signed by witnesses and notarized.

  • You want to appoint someone to manage your business needs if you become ill.
  • You already have a grave diagnosis and want to assign someone before you cannot.
  • You need someone to take care of your financial responsibilities while you are away.
  • You want someone to manage your financial obligations because you do not want to.

Provided that you already know who you want your agent to be, it only takes a few minutes to make the Power of Attorney document that you'll need to print and take to be notarized alongside your witnesses. While not every state requires notarization, you may as well go ahead and take that step just in case it is challenged. It should be noted that most Power of Attorney documents these days are meant to be "durable," meaning that they continue to be active if you become incapacitated.

Other types of Power of Attorneys: Durable Power of Attorney, Springing Power of Attorney, General Power of Attorney, Limited Power of Attorney, Military Power of Attorney, Mental Health Care Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney agents manage your financial responsibilities for you. You may decide to appoint a person to manage your financial affairs if you are going to be away for a while (military deployment or prison), if you are ill and will be incapacitated (surgery or treatment), or if you are terminally ill and need someone to manage your finances until you pass. Or you may choose to appoint someone to take care of your finances simply because you do not want to.

Responsibilities may include:

Finances
This includes paying your ongoing expenses, filing your taxes, collecting social security and managing your investments while keeping meticulous financial records for you.

Acting on your behalf with third parties
They may represent you in disputes with credit card companies, utility companies or other. In many cases, they will need to provide proof of Power of Attorney before the companies will speak with them.

In terms of property, agents do not usually distribute property unless it is outlined in a Living Trust. But they may be responsible for making sure the bills are paid for the property such as property taxes, insurance and utilities.

You can choose anyone you want to be your agent if they are over 18 years of age. It can be a relative, spouse, friend or business associate. The most important characteristics of your chosen agent are that you trust them and they understand your wishes. And of equal importance, that they have the fortitude to carry out your wishes and act in your best interest even if they are pressured by your family or others with an interest in your estate. You can also choose to appoint co-agents and you can assign specific duties to different people.

You'll also want to speak with possible agents in advance about how they feel about being your agent and the responsibilities required of them. If they don't want to accept the role, they are likely not the best choice. Some choose to appoint their lawyer or accountant as their agent. However, be prepared to pay them for their services.

In most cases, no. You'll need to make sure that copies are available to the people that need them. At the minimum, your agent should have a copy and you should keep a copy in your safe or other secure place. If you have a lawyer, they should have a copy, as well. The document should be kept alongside your other important documents such as your Living Will, bank statements, stock information and property deeds.

Often the person you appoint to be your Power of Attorney is not the same person you appoint to make medical decisions for you. Usually, the POA manages business and financial duties, whereas the Medical Power of Attorney agent is the person you assign to make medical choices for you during the times you cannot (such as when you are in surgery). However, Medical POA is different from Living Will directives which are more concerned with end-of-life or deathbed concerns.

They last as long as you want them to. You may choose the contract to last until your death (often called a Durable Power of Attorney or Enduring Power of Attorney). You can set them to end on a specific date. Or, you can set conditions for the length of the contract. For example, if you are in the military and are not sure how long you will be deployed you can set the end date to when you return from deployment without a specific date stated (often referred to as a Springing Power of Attorney). If you are still mentally sound, you can end it just by changing the document whenever you want. You can also terminate an existing Power of Attorney with a Revocation of Power of Attorney.

All too often someone falls ill before a POA document is in place. Or a parent suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's and cannot sign a POA. If your parent is still mentally sound, you can create the POA for their state and have it signed with a notary. Often hospitals or care homes have notary services available.

If your parent can no longer legally sign, you'll want to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. You may need to go before a judge to try to become their conservator or adult guardian. If you are appointed as their adult (or elder) guardian, you can handle their medical and financial matters. If they die, your temporary privileges dissolve and their Last Will and Testament take precedence.

You can change your agent whenever you want if you are physically and mentally capable. If you are already incapacitated the courts may be able to change your agent for you if they determine that they are not acting in your best interest. If you are capable of changing the document yourself, it is simple to change agents. In most cases, you simply destroy the first document and draft another one to change agents. Alternatively, you can make a formal revocation.

Common reasons for changing agents include:

  • Change in level of trust in the agent. Maybe it has been years since your first draft and the person has changed or your relationship with the agent has changed.
  • The agent dies. You'll want to change your paperwork right away if this happens. You can have the second choice named in the original document to evade this problem.
  • You want to change the powers granted to the agent. Maybe your estate has grown, and you want to divide responsibilities between more than one person.

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