Overcoming misconceptions about powers of attorney

No one likes to think that there may come a time when he or she is unable to do routine tasks such as paying bills or making purchases. You may imagine a complete loss of control over your own life, leaving someone else, perhaps a stranger, to handle the money you worked so hard to earn and save. In fact, like many in New York, you may find it easier to convince yourself that such incapacitation will never happen to you.

While it is easy to let your imagination go from one extreme to the other, the better option is to make careful preparations so you will be protected if the worst should happen. You can do this by including a power of attorney in your estate plan.

How a power of attorney can work for you

When you grant the power of attorney to someone, you allow that person to handle your financial and legal affairs while you are unable to do so. This could occur if you become ill, are injured or expect to be recovering from surgery for an extended period of time. It can also be if you are traveling and expect to face legal or financial decisions while you are away.

Until a time occurs when you choose or are unable to choose to relinquish authority, you maintain control over your own affairs. You have the power to determine how much control your agent will have and the circumstances under which your agent assumes authority by choosing one of three kinds of POA:

  • Nondurable: Grants immediate and temporary power to an agent, usually for a specific purpose, such as a real estate transaction
  • Durable: Grants extended power to an agent, including during the time when you may be incapacitated, and ends when you cancel it or pass away
  • Springing: Assigned before it is needed and becomes active when your doctor determines you are not able to handle legal or financial decisions

In addition to your power of attorney, you may also consider including a health care proxy in your estate plan. A health care proxy is like a power of attorney for your medical needs. Your proxy will speak for you while following your wishes concerning the administration and withholding of medical care if you are unable to speak for yourself. Both a power of attorney and health care proxy are delicate matters to consider and best discussed with your family and through the guidance of your attorney.

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