July 13, 2012

Why would you ever consider giving someone else the power to manage your affairs? After all, you’re doing just fine on your own now. But if a heart attack, stroke or accident leaves you suddenly incapacitated, who will carry out your wishes?

To make sure you’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life, you might want to consider a power of attorney. A few simple steps can relieve you of worry and your family from the burden associated with the difficult decisions that come with aging.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document allowing someone to act on on another’s behalf. A power of attorney can be limited to a specific aspect of your affairs, such as real estate, health care or finances. You may also establish a general power of attorney.

Most seniors are interested in a certain type of power of attorney called a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney stays effective if you become incapacitated, leaving the person you’ve appointed in charge of your affairs until you regain the ability to take over, or until your death.

A power of attorney can include a “trigger clause” that specifies when the document becomes effective, enabling you to remain in control of your affairs until you require assistance. If something like the onset of a memory disorder leaves you incapacitated, the power of attorney will trigger. If you write a living will, make sure it will be honored in other states, and always have a copy on hand when you travel.

Who Should You Select to be Your Agent?

A power of attorney agent should be someone you trust and feel entirely comfortable with. It is also important that the person you choose to serve as your agent is competent to perform the actions at hand.

Many people choose a close relative to serve as their agent. You can also choose more than one individual: a family member who has your best interests at heart, and an attorney who can make the best financial decisions, for example.

It’s best if at least one of your agents lives within a reasonably close distance to you, so that he has access to the documents he needs to be responsible for.

Setting Up a Power of Attorney

Once you’ve decided that you need a power of attorney and have chosen your agent, it’s time to become familiar with the paperwork. Use a form such as this one from the IRS as a starting point. Read it over, and then sit down with your agent to discuss what is expected of both you.

Before you finalize the document, its best to meet with an attorney. To find an attorney who deals with power of attorney, you can get a referral from your current attorney, ask friends, or consult your state bar association.

I Have a Power of Attorney: Now What?

Who should know about the existence of your power of attorney, and living will if you have one? Everyone you know! If your friends and family are informed of your decision and familiar with the agent you’ve chosen, they’ll be able to keep the peace should you ever become incapacitated and have your power of attorney go into effect.

A power of attorney can give you great peace of mind. By completing these documents before you need them, you’ll ensure your wishes are carried out and your loved ones know what you need them to do for you when you can’t do those things yourself.

For more information on power of attorney, visit the IRS website on power of attorney.