Why the Power of Attorney might be the MOST important document you can have!
When lawyers talk about estate planning documents, most people immediately think of a will or a trust. Some people think of a living will, and some think of power of attorney. In my opinion, the power of attorney is one of the most important documents you can have.
What Is It?
A power of attorney is a document that appoints an individual to handle your affairs. A healthcare power of attorney is specific to medical decisions. Sometimes these documents will be combined into one, but my recommendation is that it be two separate documents. The “regular” or “financial” power of attorney spells out exactly the actions that your power of attorney can take on your behalf in dealing with your property – land, house, bank accounts (i.e., your “stuff”). The healthcare power of attorney states what medical decisions your power of attorney can make for you. I prefer that both of these documents be fairly specific. I also recognize that some individuals may want one person to be over their finances and one person to be over their healthcare – having separate documents makes the preference more clear to the people reading the power of attorney.
Who Should I Name?
This question might be the one that causes the most concern among clients. Keep in mind the person you name will have control over ALL of your assets or will be making potentially life altering medical decisions for you. So, it has to be someone you trust. A default for many people will be their spouse, but sometimes – depending on the spouse’s mental condition or the condition of the relationship – that is not always the best choice. Other people choose children or a close friend or other family member to serve. The bottom line is that it has to be someone you trust.
Location is also a factor. While many of our financial (and even healthcare) transactions take place online now, there is some practical benefit to choosing someone that is close to you geographically. If there are two people that a client trusts, but only one of them lives nearby, I will tell them to select the closer person to be their power of attorney.
Having a power of attorney in place now will avoid a lot of confusion, heartache, and expense in the future. If you become incapacitated and do not have a power of attorney, your family may be forced to institute conservatorship/guardianship proceedings in order to make decisions for you. In the best circumstances that process could cost more than ten times what having a power of attorney prepared would cost. It also involves going to court, appearing in front of a judge, and annual court appointments.
Our office strives to make the process of having your estate planning documents, including your power of attorney, as easy as possible. We offer in-person, telephone, and online consultations and appointments – you can schedule using this link. Or you can call our office at 423-765-0743. Average turnaround time for most estate planning documents is 2-3 weeks.