Powers of Attorney – Are You Prepared?

Many people think of Powers of Attorney the same way they think about their Will – something they will get done “eventually” because it will not be needed until “later.”  However, the need for Powers of Attorney can arise at any time.  And like many planning tools, if we wait until we need them, it may be too late.

A Power of Attorney lets you pick the person (your “attorney-in-fact”) who will make decisions on your behalf if you cannot make or communicate them for yourself. While we often think this will happen toward the end of life, anyone, at any age, can have an accident or contract an illness that prevents him or her from making or communicating their decisions for a period of time.  Without Powers of Attorney, a Court may choose someone – a Guardian for personal matters, or a Conservator for financial matters – to make those decisions for you.  Not only might that be someone you would not have chosen, but your affairs might be in quite a bit of disarray before this legal process is completed.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney covers healthcare decisions, and a General Power of Attorney covers decisions related to financial matters. A Durable Power of Attorney contains specific language that makes it clear that your attorney-in-fact can act when you are disabled. In Arizona, it is quite simple to prepare Healthcare Powers of Attorney.  The Office of the Attorney General has forms on its website, at www.azag.gov/life_care.  The completed forms should be signed, witnessed and notarized, with copies given to your attorney-in-fact and your doctor.

A General Power of Attorney is not included in the Attorney General’s packet.  There are so many variables about what you may want to authorize someone to do on your behalf, as well as things you want to specify that they may not do, that a generic form won’t do the trick.  For example, can your attorney-in-fact name himself as a co-owner on your bank account, or just sign checks?  Can she hire people to take care of your home while you are incapacitated?  Can she hire – and pay – herself to do that?  Can she sell your house to free up funds for your care, or do you specifically not want your house to be sold?  These are just a few of the types of decisions you can make in your Power of Attorney so it is clear to both your attorney-in-fact and the people he or she deals with that he or she is acting on your behalf.

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