When most people think of estate planning, they think of what will happen to their assets after they die. Estate planning is much more than that, though. Protecting yourself in the event of mental or physical incapacitation is also a very important part of the estate planning process. This is something Pennsylvania residents can do with a legal document known as a power of attorney.
What exactly is a power of attorney? How can I set one up? What happens if I do not have one?
A power of attorney is…
A power of attorney is a document in which a trusted individual is assigned to make decisions for you and handle your affairs in the event that you are unable. There are two basic types of power of attorney: health care and financial. The difference between the two are as follows:
- Health care: A health care power of attorney gives your representative the right to make medical decisions for you — such as what care you will or will not receive.
- Financial: This type of POA gives your personal representative the right to handle all of our financial affairs. He or she will generally have the right to access your bank accounts, pay your bill, pay your taxes and even sell your assets — if deemed necessary.
The health care POA and financial POA can be the same person, or you can assign different people to each role. It all depends on what you feel comfortable doing.
Setting up a power of attorney is really pretty simple. It is a matter of picking the person or persons you wish to act on your behalf, putting their names on the legal document, signing the document with witnesses and a notary present. The hardest part about setting up a POA is in setting limits and documenting wants and wishes.
A POA does not have unlimited power. An individual in this position must act within reason and follow documented wants and wishes. It is possible to remove from the position a POA who is not making decisions that serve your best interests.
If you do not have one
If you do not have a power of attorney for medical or financial purposes, what happens when you become incapacitated depends on your individual situation. If married, some decisions may be up to your spouse to make. If your spouse and family disagree on what should happen or if you have no spouse, individuals interested in handling your affairs may need to take the matter to court for a judge to weigh in on the situation.
So, do you need a power of attorney? It is a personal choice, but at the end of the day, having a POA in your arsenal is better than not having one.