Imagine that you become incapable of handling your own finances and affairs because you are diagnosed with a mental disability. Imagine that you get into a car accident and cannot leave your house to go to the bank. Imagine that you are on vacation or a business trip and need your spouse to sign on your behalf because you want to sell your house or buy a new house. What would you do?
Many have heard of a power of attorney. It is a tremendous tool if it’s used correctly, and if the right person is named. But it often is the most misused legal document and can be incredibly dangerous if it ends up in the hands of the wrong person. Choosing your power of attorney is incredibly important, as we have seen many cases where someone has chosen the wrong person to act as power of attorney, and it resulted in that person being exploited.
What is a power of attorney?
A power of attorney is a document that gives someone (an agent) the legal authority to “stand in your shoes” to make legal and financial decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Many times, an agent will take responsibility to pay bills, make investment decisions, deal with a bank, or make other legal or financial decisions. Not all powers of attorneys are the same, however. There are different types of powers of attorney, and their ability to make decisions or do things are dependent on the language in the document.
There are durable powers of attorney and non-durable powers of attorney. A durable power of attorney continues even when you become disabled through diminished capacity or cognitive decline. It is an incredibly powerful document that gives very broad power.
A non-durable power of attorney is typically written to deal with a single transaction. For example, you might give a spouse or child the authority to sell or buy a house but limit that authority to a specific period of time. It also ends when you become mentally incapacitated.
Choosing the right person
The biggest thing to remember when choosing a power of attorney is to pick someone that you trust. Some people who don’t have many family members to choose from feel the need to pick whoever is closest in relation to them. This sometimes means that a child, grandchild, or niece or nephew is chosen out of “obligation”, when they aren’t the best choice. Remember that your power of attorney will possibly be handling all of your legal and financial affairs. You want to choose someone that is financially savvy and trustworthy. Choose someone who you trust, who takes the duty of being a power of attorney seriously, and who understands and will follow your wishes and desires. You must remember that you are giving your power of attorney great power over your finances and legal decisions.
How do we help?
Many lawyers create documents and never see the client again. Many times people just give their power of attorney a copy of the document and don’t do anything more. This is often when the power of attorney is misused or used in a way where the wishes of the client might not be followed.
Polaris Law Group works differently. We work with our clients in an ongoing capacity. We get to know our client’s family and powers of attorneys. Through our Lifespan program, we also hold onto our client’s original documents for safekeeping, and release powers of attorney documents to the agent only when it is necessary. In getting to know our clients over the years, we know what their values and wishes are. We also can help ensure that our client’s agents use their powers correctly, and not in ways that exploit our clients.
Our goal is to ensure that our clients know they are protected while they are alive, if they become disabled, and that their family will have a trusted resource to call upon when they pass away.
If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our St. Charles office.