A power of attorney is a legal document which allows the drafter or "principal" to name an agent or "attorney-in-fact" to act on their behalf under certain circumstances. The attorney-in-fact can act on the principal's behalf, and make legally binding decisions. The power of attorney can be granted broadly or in limited situations, such as poor health or unconsciousness. Given the different types and variations of a power of attorney, it is advisable to consult a lawyer with experience in estate planning before drafting one.
Consider these types of powers of attorney:
- General Power of Attorney. A general power of attorney comes into effect most of the time if the principal becomes physically or mentally incapacitated. This allows the principal to take precautions against the possibility that they will become unable to care for themselves or their estate. A power of attorney can therefore depend on certain triggers, such as a medical declaration of mental incapacitation. A power of attorney can serve as an alternative to guardianship.
- Health Care Power of Attorney. This document allows the principal to appoint someone to make health care decisions on their behalf should the principal become unconscious or otherwise unable. A health care power of attorney can also legally contain instructions on whether to provide life support or other procedures should the principal become permanently ill or unconscious.
- Other legal documents such as living wills allow persons to provide instructions about their health care and estate planning. The estate planning process should cover the disposition of assets during your lifetime as well as afterwards. If you are beginning the estate planning process or must have a power of attorney drafted, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to protect your assets and fulfill your needs.
If your health deteriorates and you are unable to manage your own personal and financial affairs, and you don't have a power of attorney, you may need a conservator or guardian be appointed to look after your affairs. This agent can be called a guardian or conservator depending on what you need to have done for you. If a court appoints a these people, you may not be able to choose who this will be.
Guardians and Conservators will have the authority to make legal and financial decisions for you. The estate of the person, aka the "ward", pays the cost and expenses of the conservator and any court costs and attorney's fees.
There can be disadvantages to this system. There is little guarantee that a court-appointed conservator will understand and work towards your goals or wishes for your estate. You should set up an estate plan, and choose a trusted person to manage your affairs if you are incapacitated. A health care directive or living will can provide direction to your doctors on whether to put you on life support. A health care power of attorney allows you to grant a trusted person the ability to make health care decisions on your behalf.
Early planning allows you to alleviate concerns over these issues before they come up. Given the potentially serious consequences of these decisions, it is vital to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and your estate planning needs are met.
If you would like to schedule a initial consultation contact an Iowa estate planning attorney, representing clients in Waverly, Iowa at the Dillon Law P.C. Give us a call at (563) 578-1850 or complete our inquiry form.