You have likely heard of durable powers of attorneys; maybe your estate planning lawyer has encouraged you to consider the importance of these important legal documents or maybe you’ve witnessed a close friend’s family struggle because they’re unsure of how to honor a loved one who’s incapacitated or deceased. A power of attorney is a document that allows a client to appoint another person to make decisions on your behalf if you’re ever incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. The person you appoint is referred to as your agent or an attorney-in-fact.
Keep in mind, there are separate powers of attorney for financial matters and for healthcare decisions. The person you’ve chosen, your “agent”, steps in and has the power to make any decision that you can make. The amount of control is determined by you and you can rescind any of your powers of attorney at any time.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney for property, or DPA, is simply a legal document that provides an avenue for your agent to make decisions from both a legal and financial perspective on your behalf. The “durable” simply means it covers you should you become incompetent to do so mentally.
Anyone you trust, provided they’re of legal age, can fill this role. Your spouse, an adult child, your best friend – any of these are acceptable if you trust them to carry out your wishes. Not only can you rescind the power of attorney, but you can also change the dynamics. You may limit or broaden the powers of your durable power of attorney in ways you define. He or she can be given broad powers to make charitable donations, buy property, apply for benefits, etc.
Benefits of a Durable Power of Attorney
Durable powers of attorney are an affordable safeguard. They’re both simple and effective. They can eliminate the necessity of filing for guardianship should you become incapacitated. These documents cease to exist at the time of your death. Further, it doesn’t change anything with those you’ve named as an heir or how your assets are distributed.
Keep in Mind…
They’re important documents to have, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, there is generally no one double checking the decisions your agent is making. Choose carefully. Not only that, but because there are broad powers associated with these documents, the courts are limited in what they can do from a legal standpoint. If the DPA, especially if it’s a family member, abuses his role, it can cause major family problems.
Your estate planning lawyer can work with you to ensure the details are covered. We strongly encourage our clients to steer clear of the online “fill in the blank” forms. These can often result in big problems for families when they attempt to handle the legalities on their own.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind. You’ll want to discuss your needs with your estate planning lawyer to ensure the proverbial bases are covered. Otherwise, you’re leaving yourself and your family in a vulnerable position. To learn more about these important estate planning documents, contact our offices today.
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