The Importance of Durable Powers of Attorney, Part 1

A durable Power of Attorney is a powerful document that can be very important in estate planning. In this month and next month’s blog posts, we will be discussing this document in depth.

What is a Power of Attorney?

Powers of attorney are voluntary delegations of authority by the principal (the signer of the document) to an agent (a person of trust picked by the principal.) The principal does not give up his or her own power to do these same functions but grants legal authority to the agent to perform various tasks on the principal's behalf. All states have adopted a "durability" statute that allows principals to include in their powers of attorney a simple declaration that no power granted by the principal in this document will become invalid upon the subsequent mental incapacity of the principal. The result is a "durable power of attorney"--a document that continues to be valid until a stated termination date or event occurs, or the principal dies.

What are some of the benefits of a Power of Attorney?

1. Provides the ability to choose who will make decisions for you (rather than a court).

If someone has signed a power of attorney and later becomes incapacitated and unable to make decisions, the agent named can step into the shoes of the incapacitated person and make important financial decisions. Without a power of attorney, a guardianship or conservatorship may need to be established, and can be very expensive.

2. Avoids the necessity of a guardianship or conservatorship.

Someone who does not have a comprehensive power of attorney at the time they become incapacitated would have no alternative than to have someone else petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator. The court will choose who is appointed to manage the financial and/or health affairs of the incapacitated person, and the court will continue to monitor the situation as long as the incapacitated person is alive. While not only a costly process, another detriment is the fact that the incapacitated person has no input on who will be appointed to serve.

3. Provides family members a good opportunity to discuss wishes and desires.

There is much thought and consideration that goes into the creation of a comprehensive power of attorney. One of the most important decisions is who will serve as the agent. When a parent or loved one makes the decision to sign a power of attorney, it is a good opportunity for the parent to discuss wishes and expectations with the family and, in particular, the person named as agent in the power of attorney.

4. The more comprehensive the power of attorney, the better.

As people age, their needs change and their power of attorney should reflect that. Seniors have concerns about long term care, applying for government benefits to pay for care, as well as choosing the proper care providers. Without allowing the agent to perform these tasks and more, precious time and money may be wasted. 

5. Prevents questions about principal's intent.

Many of us have read about court battles over a person's intent once that person has become incapacitated. A well-drafted power of attorney, along with other health care directives, can eliminate the need for family members to argue or disagree over a loved one's wishes. Once written down, this document is excellent evidence of their intent and is difficult to dispute.

In December, we will be continuing this important discussion! In the meantime, please reach out to our firm or an attorney’s office if you have questions about Powers of Attorney and if setting one up would be best for your situation.

Colin Austin