If something happens while you are alive, that makes it impossible for you to handle your financial affairs, sign legal documents or communicate your wishes to others, you could have trouble in many ways. Without a properly executed Power of Attorney, your family may need to get a court order just to handle your affairs. These can cost plenty and waste months of time.
Even though a power of attorney is a relatively simple document and is readily available from many sources, I am still amazed at how many families and individuals do not have one in force. Follow these simple guidelines and make sure that you are protected should anything ever happen that would cause you to need one.
Seven Factors To Consider:
1. Your Agents: One of the most important decisions with a power of attorney is your selection of agents. Will you use a single agent or appoint co-agents? Who will be your successor agent(s) if someone is unable or unwilling to fulfill their duties? These are the questions you need to answer before you are ready. Your agent(s) should be organized, good with numbers and possess great common sense.
2. Access Medical Records: Will you allow your agents to have access to your medical records? They may need this information to keep track of, or to dispute medical bills. But if you want or do not want them to have access to this information, you will need to specify inside your power of attorney.
3. General or Specific Powers: Will your power of attorney provide your agent with broad general powers or very specific powers? You can decide on either, but the more specific you get, the more limited the powers your agent will be allowed. Most people will choose to provide a general power that will include handling most financial, business and personal matters.
4. Beneficiary Changes: You can empower your agents with the ability to change your beneficiaries if you would like, but this can be a risky proposition. In most instances, you will not allow for this provision. You can also provide for the power to refuse potential inheritances. I think this can be helpful in situations where, if someone passes and is leaving you an inheritance, but you refuse it (or are deceased), it would go directly to your children instead.
5. Effective Dates: When will your power of attorney take effect? When will it terminate? You can have it take effect immediately upon execution, you can have it take effect upon the certification of some medical condition or you can specify a certain time period. You might use this if you were going to be out of the country for 3 months or in a rehabilitation program for certain length of time. All powers of attorney terminate immediately upon the death of the individual, but you can set other dates or events as previously outlined.
6. Hire Professionals: Will your agent have the power to hire professionals such as accountants, financial advisers, lawyers, etc? If you want them to be able to handle these on your behalf, you have to specifically allow them by including this power within your document. If not, you may want to specify who you are already working with and require their services if needed.
7. Receive Compensation: Will your agent be allowed to receive reasonable compensation for time and efforts spent acting as your agent? Will they also be allowed to receive reimbursement for any expenses that they incur while acting on your behalf? In most cases you should allow both of these. Taking care of someone's affairs can be time-consuming and there should be reasonable remuneration for these services. While you can specify either way, your agents may be unwilling to participate without it and this could cause bigger problem down the road.
Summary: Having a power of attorney drafted is a fairly simple and inexpensive process. You can hire an attorney, use online legal services or purchase a legal software package to assist you with the preparation. It is very important to follow the execution and filing recommendations for your state and county. Having proper witnesses and notarization of all signatures is a great safeguard for any legal documents, so make sure to get them done right.
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