As you get older, you may be considering giving a friend or relative your power of attorney so that someone will be legally empowered to handle your affairs in the case of your becoming unable to do so. Getting a power of attorney (or POA) may sound simple enough, but the process and the reasons behind having one can get complicated. This means you should investigate the three types of powers of attorney.
General/Durable Power of Attorney
The most common is a general or durable power of attorney, which allows you to give another person broad powers over both your legal, financial and medical decisions. You can decided specifically which affairs your POA can execute. The person holding your power of attorney then becomes your agent and may act on your behalf.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
A healthcare POA restricts your agent to making choices only about your medical situation. This person does not have the power to handle your legal affairs or finances.
Springing Power of Attorney
A springing power of attorney is also known as a conditional power of attorney. This document takes effect only when certain conditions are met. Usually those conditions refer to you becoming mentally or physically incapacitated. While a durable power of attorney goes into effect immediately after signing, this type only “springs” into effect if or when you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated. You may specify which affairs your POA has the ability to execute.
Durable or Springing POA?
Some people choose a springing power of attorney because it may seem to give fewer possibilities for abuse than a durable POA but this is not necessarily true. If you are feeling trepidation over handing the reins of your life to another person, you should ask yourself whether you have doubts about this person’s trustworthiness. If you are not sure that the potential agent has your best interests at heart, then you should not be giving them your power of attorney at all.
One of the safety features built into a springing power of attorney is that you are not giving the power of attorney to anyone unless certain conditions are met, usually if you become incapacitated. You can require that a letter from your healthcare provider is required before activating the springing power of attorney.
Ask for Expert Help
The best way to get the right power of attorney for your personal situation is to consult with a lawyer who is skilled in estate planning. This expert can guide you in structuring your POA and choosing the right agent.
Along with a will and advance healthcare directive, a power of attorney is one legal document that everyone should have, but do be aware that your POA may not be honored everywhere. Federal government agencies, including the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration, do not recognize powers of attorney. This is another reason that you need the services of an expert in estate planning to be sure that you have a POA that will give you peace of mind and protect your assets.