Power Of Attorney: Understanding The Legal Document And Its Implications
Many people hear the term “power of attorney” and are not really sure what this means. At Boehmer Law, our wills and estate planning attorneys in St. Charles, Missouri, are here to answer those questions and more. When you meet with our attorneys, they will sit down with you, listen to the circumstances of your individual family or legal situation and work through a plan that best fits your needs. At Boehmer Law, your first consultation is always free, and we will explain all your costs upfront. Call 636-549-8300 to schedule your appointment today.
General Power Of Attorney
A general power of attorney gives broad powers to a person or organization (known as an agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on your behalf. These powers include anything from handling financial and business transactions, buying life insurance, settling claims, operating business interests, making gifts and generally employing professional help. General power of attorney is an effective tool if you will be out of the country and need someone to handle certain matters or when you are physically or mentally incapable of managing your affairs. A general power of attorney is often included in an estate plan to make sure someone can handle financial matters in the manner that you request.
Health Care Power Of Attorney
A health care power of attorney grants your chosen agent authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unconscious, mentally incompetent or otherwise unable to make decisions on your own. While not the same thing as a living will, the health care power of attorney is the individual you have given the power to implement your choices in your living will.
Special Power Of Attorney
You can specify exactly what powers an agent may exercise by signing a special power of attorney. This is often used when one cannot handle certain affairs due to other commitments or health reasons. Selling property and/or assets, managing real estate, collecting debts and handling business transactions are some of the common matters that can be specified in a special power of attorney document.
Durable Power Of Attorney
Suppose you become mentally incompetent due to illness or accident while you have a power of attorney in effect. Will the document remain valid? To safeguard against any problems, you can sign a durable power of attorney. This is simply a general, special or health care POA that has a durability provision to keep the current power of attorney in effect. You might also sign a durable power of attorney to prepare for the possibility that you may become mentally incompetent due to illness or injury. You can stipulate in the power of attorney that it cannot go into effect until a doctor certifies you as mentally incompetent. You may name a specific doctor with whom you wish to determine your competency or require that two licensed physicians agree on your mental state.
Choosing The Right Person
Trust and understanding of your wishes are key factors when choosing someone for your power of attorney. Whether the agent selected is a friend, relative, organization or attorney, you need someone who will look out for your best interests, respect your wishes and won’t abuse the powers granted to him or her – especially if minor children are involved.
It is important for an agent to keep accurate records of all transactions done on your behalf and to provide you with periodic updates to keep you informed. If you are unable to review updates yourself, direct your agent to give an account to a third party, such as a family accountant or estate attorney, that you worked with on your estate plan.
As for legal liability, an agent is held responsible only for intentional misconduct, not for unknowingly doing something wrong. This protection is included in the power of attorney documents to encourage people to accept agent responsibilities. Agents are not customarily compensated; most do it for free. Should you, a friend or a relative suspect wrongdoing on the part of your agent, report the suspected abuse to a law enforcement agency and consult a lawyer.
If you appoint only one agent, have a backup. Agents can fall ill, be injured or somehow be unable to serve when the time comes. A successor agent takes over power of attorney duties from the original agent, if needed. We recommend sitting down with anyone you designate as your power of attorney in any capacity and discussing your wishes, making sure they understand them and are willing and able to fulfill your requests.
Sound Mind And Mentally Competent
A power of attorney is valid only if you are mentally competent when you sign it and, in some cases, incompetent when it goes into effect. If you think your mental capability may be questioned, have a doctor verify it in writing. If your power of attorney doesn’t specify requirements for determining mental competency, your agent will still need a written doctor’s confirmation of your incompetence in order to do business on your behalf. In some circumstances, a court may even be required to decide the competency issue.
You must sign and notarize the original power of attorney document and certify several copies. Banks and other businesses will not likely allow your agent to act on your behalf unless they receive a certified copy of the power of attorney.
Remember, you can revoke a power of attorney at any time. Simply notify your agent in writing and retrieve all copies of your power of attorney. Notify any financial institutions and the County Clerk’s office, if applicable, that your agent’s power of attorney has been revoked.
Contact Boehmer Law For Skilled Assistance
If you have questions about power of attorney or need help creating one, our experienced estate planning attorneys can guide you through the process, ensuring your wishes are documented and your interests are protected.