Understanding Powers of Attorney

As individuals age and enter the twilight of their years, there may be a need for someone to step in to take care of some important medical and legal decisions. One written document that can achieve this transfer of legal power is the power of attorney.

The person granting this power is called the principal, donor, or grantor. This person being granted the power is usually called an attorney-in-fact or agent, but can be also called a variety of other names, depending on the circumstance. The attorney-in-fact must be a competent adult, aged 18 years old or older.

The basics

A power of attorney is not necessarily set in stone. The principal may revoke or cancel it at any time. There may also be a time limit on how long the power of attorney is valid. The power of attorney can become invalid when the principal becomes incapacitated–for example, if the person enters into a coma or becomes mentally ill. If a person is deemed to be incapacitated before a power of attorney can be granted, the courts can become involved, ordering either a legal guardianship or conservatorship.

On the other hand, a durable power of attorney, which can be used for health care or financial decisions, means that this arrangement will endure until the principal’s death. This also means that although the principal granted this power when he was of sound mind and body, it can go on after he has become incapacitated.

Important differences

The durable power of attorney for health care empowers a family member or friend to be the health care agent and make health care decisions on another person’s behalf, including end-of-life decisions. This is often used along with a living will, where the principal details his health care wishes. The importance of a health care agent here is to be the bridge between what the living will doesn’t stipulate and the principal’s health care needs and best interests.

The durable power of attorney for finances empowers a trusted person to handle financial matters for another person. These duties can range from cashing checks to monitoring retirement accounts. The attorney-in-fact can also hire assistance for the tasks that go beyond the scope of his expertise.

Whether your loved one needs help with making health care or financial decisions, a power of attorney can help bring some needed peace of mind and ease to a sometimes complicated and delicate life transition. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you to ensure that this legal document is drawn up properly.