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A durable power of attorney is sometimes simply known as a “power of attorney” or abbreviated to POA. It essentially allows someone to handle certain legal matters on your behalf. When the power of attorney is “durable,” it means that the authorization remains in effect in the event that you are struck by illness, accident, or some other event that causes incapacitation. It’s important to understand what extending durable power of attorney means so that you can make informed choices about how to use this tool when you are planning for your future.
Why do you need a durable power of attorney?
You need a durable power of attorney to help you adequately plan for the unfortunate event that you become incapacitated due to illness, injury, or some other accident. While very few of us plan to become incapacitated during our lifetimes, the reality is that many individuals do face times in their lives — either temporary or permanent — where they lack the cognitive or physical function to make informed decisions about their own health care, finances, or legal choices. In these instances, it is very important to have a plan in place before the necessity for one occurs.
Once you are incapacitated, it’s too late to direct others on how you would like these choices made. Establishing a durable power of attorney helps ensure that your wishes are upheld in the event that you cannot oversee them yourself. Taking this step in estate planning also helps ensure that there is no confusion or conflict as difficult and important decisions are made.
What is a durable power of attorney for?
A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint an individual to be in charge of decisions regarding your health care, finances, or legal concerns. A durable power of attorney can be established for only limited purposes or in a more general way. This established authority will be used to make decisions when you are unconscious or otherwise unable to make your wishes known yourself.
A durable power of attorney allows someone else to make these choices for you and can be created so that it goes into effect immediately or only upon proof of incapacitation.
When is a durable power of attorney needed?
A durable power of attorney could be needed in a temporary situation in which someone has been injured or fallen ill in a way that has left them incapacitated. If someone is unconscious from an accident, for example, a durable power of attorney can make medical decisions about their care. This appointed individual can also be needed in more permanent situations such as ongoing cognitive decline due to illness or injury.
If someone has been diagnosed with a degenerative cognitive disorder, appointing someone to have a durable power of attorney can help ensure that the individual’s estate is handled in the way that best aligns with that individual’s preferences even if the illness makes them incapable of making those choices for themselves.
How does a durable power of attorney protect you and your loved ones?
Estate planning is an important part of ensuring that your loved ones are protected upon your death. Many people recognize the need to protect their choices by making a will that directs others on how to handle their estate in this situation. Appointing a durable power of attorney allows this same level of protection and assurance in the case of becoming incapacitated by illness or injury.
Without the appointing of a durable power of attorney, important decisions regarding medical care, legal matters, or finances can be disputed and cause tension and turmoil among family members. Having a durable power of attorney is an important part of thorough estate planning that makes sure your choices are honored and protected.
What happens if you don’t have a durable power of attorney?
In the absence of a durable power of attorney, courts will often have to intervene in any dispute about medical care, legal issues, or finances. This process can be costly, time-consuming, and frustrating for family members who are left trying to piece together a loved one’s wishes from incomplete information. A family member may find themselves unexpectedly called upon to make difficult medical decisions, causing distress and confusion. In some cases, the absence of a durable power of attorney may mean that there is no clear choice for who can make decisions at all, especially if there are no family members to contact. Courts may appoint someone to act on behalf of an incapacitated individual, which might mean that the person given this power is someone who acts in a way counter to the wishes of the individual in question or who simply does not have access to information about the individual’s preferences and viewpoints. Furthermore, this court-ordered appointment of someone to make these decisions can cause conflicts among family members who contest the appointment or have differing viewpoints about the decisions made.