Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why are Powers of Attorney so Important?

We often receive phone calls inquiring about updating their will or trust.  While undoubtedly important, these documents generally only address one event, namely what happens to your assets when you pass away.


Equally important, but often overlooked, is protecting yourself and your family from financial and health care emergencies during your lifetime.  Properly drafted, Powers of Attorney can safeguard you from emergencies that may strike when you least expect it.

 

Everyone over 18 should complete both a Health Care and Financial Power of Attorney (P.O.A.).  While surprising to most people, the Wisconsin Statutes do not make a parent, a spouse, a relative or family member the default decision maker for anyone over 18.  The only alternative is oftentimes a costly and stressful legal proceeding involving the courts.


Each Power of Attorney document, in effect, nominates another person (your "agent") to legally make decisions for you.

 

A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to designate an agent to discuss your condition with your doctor and make medical decisions according to your wishes when you are unable to communicate those desires.


A Financial Power of Attorney names an agent who can make financial and other non-medical decisions.  An agent’s authority can be immediate at the time of signing the document or it can take effect only in the event of "incapacity"–that is, when you are unable to act for yourself.


Undoubtedly, the role of agent is an important responsibility that should not be lightly considered.  So, who should you choose as your agent?


Naming an individual who shares your same values and beliefs can help ensure your wishes are followed.  We also suggest discussing with your agent any specific health or financial priorities and wishes you may have.  This conversation helps to avoid future questions about your goals and objectives when your agent is called upon to act.


Both a Health Care P.O.A. and a Financial P.O.A. can eliminate future conflict by laying out your wishes and designating someone to make decisions when you cannot.  These should be a key part of your estate plan.

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