A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows you to designate someone as the person to make important medical, legal, and other decisions on your behalf if you are unable.
State laws designate a person who can make these decisions in an emergency, usually a spouse or eldest child. Using a power of attorney, you can choose who you wish. Plus, it’s easier for that person to verify their status, saving time when it matters most.
What Kind of Power of Attorney do You Need?
There are several kinds of POA. In conversation, most people refer to the durable POA, which means a designee (dubbed your “agent”) who can act in your interests if you are not able to. The durable POA confers broad authority across many situations.
Other types of POA include:
- Springing: This POA only activates when a specific condition is met.
- General: The agent may act on your behalf in all areas allowed by local law.
- Financial: The agent may act on your behalf in money and property matters.
- Medical: The agent may make healthcare decisions on your behalf.
What Are the Steps to Setting Up a Power of Attorney?
Once you know what POA you want, the steps to creating one are not all that complicated. While it’s essential to finalize your power of attorney before you need it, the process can be completed within one week.
Here’s what to do:
1. Choose Your Agent
Most states specify that agents must be at least 18, but in some states, the minimum age is 21. Under no circumstances can your agent be your healthcare provider. The agent should be someone you trust to act in your best interests and follow your wishes.
2. Decide on Your Agent’s Authority
It is possible to have several powers of attorney active at once as long as the authorities they provide are separate. For instance, you can have a general power of attorney that names one overall agent, while also naming other agents in a financial POA, a medical POA, or both.
Within your POA, you can specify the precise decisions that you want the agent to have control over. To understand how this might work, consider a few of the areas that could fall under a medical POA. You’re entitled to list specific entitlements and exemptions in all these areas:
- Which medications and treatments you receive
- Which doctors are responsible for your care
- Which facilities you will use to receive care
3. Obtain a Power of Attorney Form
Although it’s helpful to have the advice of a qualified attorney, you do not need to pay any legal fees for power of attorney forms. Most states provide blank POAs for free. Online companies can provide pre-filled POAs for a small fee.
If you have lots of specific directives you want to put into your power of attorney, you may need to speak to a law office. Estate planning attorneys specialize in power of attorney and related matters.
4. Complete, Sign, and Authenticate the Form
Power of attorney forms need to be notarized to be valid. A notary public or qualified attorney can see to this requirement. In most jurisdictions, two adult witnesses must be present to validate the signature.
5. Distribute Your Power of Attorney
Distribute copies of your power of attorney to your agents and to your estate planning attorney if you have one. Keep a copy in your home and consider keeping another one in your bank’s safe deposit box.
There is no harm in setting up your power of attorney long before you anticipate needing it, in fact, it is recommended to do so. While the thought of completing this task may feel a bit daunting, remember that setting up your power of attorney ensures decisions will be made on your behalf that are in your best interest.