A crucial part of any estate plan is being prepared for the worst. What happens when you are no longer able to make your own health care decisions? What happens when you are no longer able to make your own financial decisions? Fortunately, there are three kinds of simple documents used to answer these questions: a health care power of attorney, a living will, and a general or financial power of attorney. A Power of attorney is the authority to act for another person in specified or all legal or financial matters.
Along with a will, each person should sign a health care power of attorney and living will. A health care power of attorney is a document that allows you to designate a spouse, family member, or trusted friend to make health care decisions if you become incapacitated. A living will allows you to state your end-of life medical decisions. The difference between the two is that for a health care power of attorney, you are giving another person the right to make the decisions for you. A living will allows the health care power of attorney to make health care decisions up to end-of-life decisions, then, your wishes in the living will control. Many physicians now ask if you have these documents. They want to make sure that decisions regarding your health are being made by people you trust.
General and financial powers of attorney are similar to the health care power of attorney. They are documents that allow you to designate the person and the type of powers they can have over your personal affairs. You may allow someone to open a bank account and pay your bills on your behalf. Each general or financial power of attorney will only work if it specific to your needs.
Time is of the essence and waiting until the last minute can be tricky. To sign a legal document, a person must have legal capacity to do so. This means a person must be at least eighteen years of age and able to make rational decisions. Capacity can be reduced by age, coma, infirmity, dementia, and other mental illnesses.
In short, powers of attorney are simple, cheap ways to protect your health and finances when something unforeseen happens. Due to the importance of these documents, it would be unwise to attempt these documents without the professional advice of an attorney. An attorney will be able to draft these documents according to your own specific needs.