What is a power of attorney?
July 14th, 2020
It depends — they're not generic documents. They're put together either by the state. In California where I practice, there's a statutory power of attorney and the probate code. It has a set of powers that an agent can have and you can download it from the internet. You can choose which of the powers you want to give your agent, or you go to a lawyer and they draft these documents and the lawyer can choose what kind of powers to give. While they vary, generally speaking, if you think of it like a Swiss Army knife or a set of keys, we would make them broad because we don't know which lock you have to open or which tool you're going to need.
The kinds of powers that these documents generally give somebody would be the power to write checks and to engage in lawsuits on your behalf. They're generally financial powers, the power to open and to close accounts, the power to sell your house, make investments, change beneficiaries and new retirement plans. So this is obviously the number one elder abuse document. Be careful who you give the power of attorney to.
At the same time, imagine you're in a coma for three months, your agent has to keep your life going, right? They have to pay your mortgage, pay your credit card bill, maybe negotiate with your retirement plan to make withdrawals to pay for your care. There are a lot of things somebody has to do if you are unable to manage your own affairs, so they do need to be brought documents to be effective.
Again, just have to be really careful who you name. And if you don't have a power of attorney, it can be very difficult if you get hurt or sick.
Emily PinzurSeptember 18th, 2020
A Power of Attorney for healthcare is a person you designate to represent your wishes for healthcare and medical treatment if you are sick and unable to make those wishes known. Any person over 18 should designate a Healthcare Power of Attorney.
Why is it important? I’ve helped a lot of families (and this includes families we are born into and chosen families) think through medical decision making for people they love. Under the best possible circumstance it’s emotionally and practically difficult. It becomes much harder if a family disagrees or feels confused about what their loved one would want them to do. Designating a power of attorney is easy to do (one signature!) and saves a lot of time and heartache.
What happens if you get sick before you designate a power of attorney? Your state will default medical decision making to your legal next of kin. Maybe your legal next of kin is the person you would designate anyway. Good for you! But maybe you and your legal next of kin are estranged and you haven’t seen or talked to them in years. Maybe you and your next of kin are embroiled in a bitter divorce. These scenarios are not uncommon, and they’re not so good for you.
Designating a power of attorney is empowering! It’s an opportunity to think through common medical scenarios, get really clear on what you want and don’t want for treatment, and share that with your representative. You can make sure the person you want to voice your choices is the person who will.