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The Uses of a Power of Attorney

Even if you are in good health, there may come a time when, for a variety of reasons, you may not be able to make your own decisions regarding health issues, medical treatment, financial concerns or legal matters. With a power of attorney, you can specify who will have the authority to act on your behalf in those situations where you cannot. Without a valid power of attorney, if you need someone to manage your affairs because you lack capacity, you will need a court order appointing a conservator.

The Different Types of Powers of Attorney

Powers of attorney may be limited or general. For example, a power of attorney may only grant another person the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf, or to handle certain aspects of your finances. A general power of attorney, though, typically gives the named person the legal right to make decisions that affect all aspects of your life.

Most powers of attorney are what are known as “durable powers of attorney.” The durable power of attorney remains in effect (in fact, often only goes into effect) if you become incapacitated. A non-durable power of attorney automatically terminates when you are determined to be incapacitated.

Additionally, most powers of attorney are what are technically called “springing” powers of attorney. This means that they only become effective—spring into action, so to speak—if you are declared incompetent by a doctor or psychiatrist. As long as you remain healthy, you continue to exercise control over all your business and personal issues.

When You Want to Put a Power of Attorney in Place

Because you can seldom predict when you might become incapacitated, it is good practice to have a durable, springing power of attorney in place at all times. If, however, you are about to undergo a medical procedure, or have other reason to believe that you will lack capacity, you can prepare and execute a power of attorney that goes into effect immediately. In addition, the use of a power of attorney is not limited to times of health or capacity issues. If you plan to be out of the country, and inaccessible during a key stage in a business or legal matter, you can designate another person to make your decisions for you while you are gone.

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