What would happen to you and your family if you could no longer make financial or medical decisions for yourself? Who would make those important decisions for you? Would their decisions be in your best interests?
If you don’t have a good answer to these questions, that’s a clear sign that you’re headed for trouble, perhaps sooner than you think.
There is, however, a simple legal document that will help you avoid a lot of problems and give you peace of mind: a Power of Attorney.
This article will teach you everything you need to know to put this important document in place.
What a Power of Attorney Is, and What it Will Do for You
A power of attorney (POA) is a document that allows you to grant another person the authority to make decisions on your behalf. That person is your "attorney-in-fact" or "agent”, and you are the “principal”.
There are many personal, family, and business situations where having a written document to specify who will handle your affairs if you can’t will be critical.
Six Reasons Why You Must Have a Power of Attorney in Place Before an Emergency Happens
Putting the right power of attorney in place before a financial or medical emergency arises is critical. Here’s why:
- Power of attorney isn't automatic. Your family members, including your spouse, do not automatically have power of attorney because they're related to you.
- You’ll avoid a financial catastrophe. A POA lets you give your loved ones access to the funds in your accounts to take care of your expenses and handle financial emergencies.
- Your assets will be protected. You can keep your loved ones from going through the frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive legal proceedings by letting your agent manage your assets on your behalf.
- Your business can keep running. Your agent can step in and take over the day-to-day operations of your business and keep it running if you can’t fulfill your role.
- You’ll ensure that your wishes are carried out. If you are incapacitated or unconscious, your agent can make sure your medical choices are respected.
- You’ll keep your family from fighting. You’ll be able to make clear what your medical and financial decisions are before an emergency happens, so your family won’t be arguing over your money and property.
The Three Things You'll Need to Know Before Putting Your Power of Attorney in Writing
Before putting your POA in writing, you’ll need to determine which kind will be right for your situation, and what you need to do to set it up properly.
- First, you need to choose who you want to be your agent. Since their decisions will be binding, it’s important that your agent will be someone you trust implicitly.
- Next, you'll need to decide which powers you want to grant to them, for how long, and under what circumstances.
- Finally, you’ll need to verify the steps that will be required to finalize your POA so that it will be valid and enforceable.
How to Easily Determine Which Power of Attorney is Right for You
The kind of POA you’ll want to put in place will depend on a few key factors:
- What do you want your agent to be able to do for you?
- How much authority do you want your agent to have?
- When do you want the power of attorney to start and stop?
What Do You Want Your Agent to Be Able To Do For You?
You can state in the POA exactly how you want your agent to act on your behalf.
A financial power of attorney allows your agent to make financial decisions for you. This would be helpful, for example, if:
- You’re elderly or incapacitated and can’t make decisions for yourself.
- You’re going out of town or are deployed in the military and need someone to help you with a financial transaction or do it for you.
- You have a minor child or one with special needs, and you need to give someone else authority to care for them or manage their finances.
Likewise, a health care power of attorney, authorizes your agent to make or enforce medical decisions in your behalf, such as:
- Whether to accept or refuse certain medical treatments, such as pain medication or blood transfusions.
- Whether you want to be kept on life support if you become permanently unconscious, or if death is inevitable.
- Whether you want to be buried or cremated when you die, and if you want to donate your organs or not.
How Much Authority Do You Want Your Agent To Have?
You can make the scope and range of your agent’s powers as broad or narrow as you think they’ll need.
A general power of attorney authorizes your agent to make any decision for you at their discretion. (State laws usually require your agent to only make decisions that are in your best interests, especially financial ones.)
By contrast, a limited or special power of attorney limits their authority to specific tasks, transactions, or areas. For example, you could authorize your agent to sell your home, or withdraw money from your bank account to pay a specific bill.
When Do You Want the Power of Attorney to Start and Stop?
The type of power of attorney you use, and your directions, will determine when it will go into effect and when it will terminate.
A general power of attorney starts as soon as it is finalized, and it will terminate when you are no longer mentally competent, when you die, or when you revoke it in writing.
There are, however, certain situations where you’d want the POA to start later, end sooner, or not terminate.
A temporary power of attorney lets your agent act only within a specified time frame. You’d use this kind of POA, for example, if you needed to give someone authority to care for your child while you’re on vacation.
A durable power of attorney, often put in place as part of an estate plan, can begin immediately, or it can start or remain in effect once you become incapacitated which is usually the very times you’d need someone to step in and make decisions for you.
As long as you're in sound mind, your can terminate or revoke a power of attorney at any time either by
- notifying the agent by letter, or
- if the POA was registered with the county or filed with the court, recording of Revocation of Power of Attorney in the same venue.
Your Three Best Options for Putting Your Power of Attorney in Writing
There are a few different ways to get the actual power of attorney document down in writing, including:
- Hiring an attorney
- Using an online service
- Creating it yourself
Hiring an Attorney
You could hire a lawyer to draft your power of attorney for you. This can be expensive, but knowing that the document was created by a professional will give you peace of mind. Using a pre-paid legal service, such as LegalShield, can make this option more affordable.
Using an Online Service
There are several online services, such as Rocket Lawyer, LegalZoom, or Law Depot, which will let you fill out, customize, and download a standard POA. These services are quick, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive.
Creating it Yourself
You could also create your own power of attorney by purchasing either:
- a do-it-yourself package of pre-printed legal forms which includes a POA, or
- a software program with a POA template that you can fill in and print.
Creating it yourself is the least expensive option but also the riskiest. Since it’s a standard form, it may include provisions that aren’t right for you, or omit provisions that would be critical for you. Also, one mistake could make the document invalid.
The Five Things You Must Know to Make Sure Your Power of Attorney is Valid
The steps you’ll need to take to finalize your power of attorney and make it valid and legally binding will depend on:
- What kind of power of attorney it is
- Which state you reside or your property is located in
- The laws and policies governing the transactions you’re authorizing
- Which state power of attorney will be signed in
- Whether you want a court to intervene if a dispute arises
First of all, your POA must always be signed in front of a notary. Otherwise, anyone could forge your signature and commit fraud.
For your protection, most states require that you also sign certain types of POAs in front of two witnesses who aren’t related to you, and who won’t benefit from any of the POA’s provisions.
Depending on which state you’re signing in, your notary may or may not be allowed to be a witness too.
Also, a few states allow two witnesses to be used instead of a notary. Do an online search to see what the law is for your state.
Generally, a power of attorney does not need to be recorded. However, certain transactions or circumstances, such as transferring land or real estate, may require that you record a power of attorney with the Register of Deeds in the appropriate county for it to be valid and enforceable.
You will also need to record the POA if it stays in effect after you become incapacitated. This will give the courts the ability to intervene on your behalf if there is a dispute, or if a decision has been made for you that is not in your best interests.
Three Easy Ways to Get Your Power of Attorney Notarized
Again, you must sign your power of attorney in front of a notary in order for it to be legally valid and enforceable.
State law requires your notary to verify your identity in person. Make sure you have an original, valid, unexpired, and government-issued picture ID, such as a state identification card, a driver's license, a passport, or a military ID.
Also, if your POA requires witnesses, you will most likely need to provide them yourself. The Notary will need to verify their identity as well, so make sure everyone knows to bring proper identification.
There are a couple of ways to go about getting your POA. Each option will be different based on the time it takes, the cost, and the convenience.
- Go to your bank
- Go to your local UPS Store
- Use a Mobile Notary Service
Go to Your Bank
Going to your bank’s nearest branch is the quickest and most cost-effective option. As long as you have an account – and they have a notary on staff – they’ll usually notarize documents for you free of charge.
There is a potential challenge, though: Your bank may refuse to do it. These days, banks are becoming more hesitant to notarize complex documents or ones that involve money or property.
Their concern is that the bank could incur a cost – or be held liable – if the document becomes the subject of a legal dispute – particularly if the notary they provided must testify in court or is at fault because of an error.
You may want to contact your local branch and ask if they’ll notarize your POA before you go.
Go to Your Local UPS Store
Another option is to get a power of attorney notarized at your local UPS Store. Their fee will usually be whatever the state you’re signing in authorizes.
The process (and challenge) at the UPS store is similar to going to your bank. Usually, you’ll be able to get walk-in service, but you can also schedule an appointment in advance.
Use a Mobile Notary Service
For situations going to a physical location would be inconvenient or impossible – such as if you’re hospitalized, or if you or your witnesses are only available after normal business hours – your best option will be to use a mobile notary service.
Mobile notary services are convenient and easy to use. You can find one in your area by doing an online search for “notary near me” or “mobile notary”. Check the company’s Google or Yelp reviews to make sure the company is reputable.
Most professional companies will have a way for you to schedule an appointment right from their website, as well as a telephone number to schedule an appointment by phone.
Beware of companies that don’t have a dedicated customer service representative or that don’t answer the phone the first time you call. That’s usually a clue that they won’t provide very good service.
Before your appointment, a representative will help you finalize the details, and then a qualified notary will meet you at the time and place you choose.
You can have the notary meet you wherever and whenever it’s convenient – at home, work, a public place, or even the hospital. Many companies will even provide a notary after business hours, on weekends, or at the last minute.
As it relates to your power of attorney, one great thing about mobile notary services is that you can arrange to have them provide the witnesses for you.
Considering the tremendous convenience, mobile notary services are very affordable. You’ll pay a reasonable fee for them to dispatch the notary, plus the normal notary fee for the state you’re signing in.
Some companies will even provide add-on services, such as printing and shipping the POA for you, hand-delivering it to your attorney’s office, or even providing apostille services if your agent is in another country.
The Bottom Line
As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
A Power of Attorney is a critical part of your financial, medical, and estate plans. The simple steps in this article will make the process of choosing the right kind, putting it in writing, and making it legally valid quicker, easier, and less confusing. Why not get started today?
Let Us Help Make The Process Even Easier
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