If you’ve ever had a family member who suffered from Alzheimer’s diseases or some other form of dementia – or have had someone you love suddenly incapacitated due to other illness or injury, then you are probably already familiar with just how difficult those situations can be. In addition to the stress and worry that incapacitation causes for loved ones, there are also issues related to how an incapacitated individual’s financial and health care decisions are to be made. It is important to understand the importance of power of attorney for Indianapolis residents who want to ensure that there is no confusion about who makes those decisions when they can no longer manage their own affairs.
What is a Power of Attorney?
Power of attorney can be a terrific tool to ensure that you always have an agent who can act in your interests when you cannot. This power is granted by a legal document that provides your agent – otherwise known as an attorney-in-fact – with the express power to act in all areas authorized by the document. That enables you to empower your chosen agent with very limited authority – such as the power to sign your checks and cash them, or make certain payments on your behalf, or with broad general powers that could encompass everything from buying and selling property to signing your employees’ paychecks. These days, most people choose durable powers of attorney, to ensure that the authority they grant to their agent is not revoked by incapacitation. All powers of attorney expire with the principal’s death.
In addition to financial authority, you can also execute a power of attorney for health care to empower an agent to make health care decisions for you when you are rendered incapacitated. Often times, this power is accompanied by a living will which outlines for your agent the types of care you are willing to receive.
Why Power of Attorney Matters
While some diseases like Alzheimer’s sometimes provide enough warning for protective measures to be put into place, other illnesses and injuries may not be so accommodating. That makes it vitally important that every Indiana resident take action to create a viable plan to ensure that a trusted person can step in and make decisions if and when something goes wrong. And since there are no guarantees in life, that action should be taken as early as possible. Just consider the consequences of failing to take proper precautions:
- If you lose the capacity to make your own decisions and don’t have an agent designated to make decisions on your behalf, your family could find themselves unable to access your accounts to pay bills. There may be confusion over what types of treatment you are willing to accept, what prescriptions you are willing to use, and other important health care concerns. In short, your family will be left with a great deal of stress and little power to do anything about it.
- Your family could petition a court to obtain guardianship, but that can be a lengthy and costly process as well. In Marion County, Indiana, that petition requires that the petitioner post a bond and obtain court approval of any decisions made on your behalf. That can become a burdensome process that makes getting the appropriate treatment difficult even in the best of circumstances.
- If you’ve made no effort to detail your treatment preferences, even the most well-intended guardian will only be guessing when he or she tries to ascertain the type of care you would prefer. That could lead to your actual wishes being ignored – all because you never took the time to express them properly.
- It is also important to remember that this is not something that you should leave until you become ill. If you delay until your capacity is already in question, you may be deemed to lack the competence needed for executing a valid signature. That would leave you without a plan for your decision-making needs.
Tailoring Your Power of Attorney to Your Needs
It is vitally important to carefully consider exactly what you want your POA to accomplish, since the documents can provide your agent or agents with incredible authority over your financial and health care wellbeing. The good news is that you can use your powers of attorney documents to provides as much or as little authority as you deem appropriate. Some people are naturally reluctant to give anyone other than a trusted spouse absolute authority for their decision-making, so it is perfectly reasonable to be hesitant about giving anyone too much authority over your life.
Doing it On Your Own
There is currently a growing trend of do-it-yourself legal documents being made available on the internet, and many people are attracted to the idea of being able to create their own powers of attorney and living wills without having to consult with an attorney. In a perfect world, that would be a great idea – but we don’t live in a perfect world. If there is one thing that you can pretty much count on when it comes to DIY forms, it’s that no fill-in-the-blank form can possibly meet every person’s unique needs.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot accomplish your goals with one of those forms. You could be one of the lucky few who manages to find the right form that does everything you need it to do. Of course, there’s an even greater chance that you could end up with an inadequate power of attorney form that is legally insufficient and ultimately useless. That’s probably not a risk that you want to take.
Instead, you should ensure that your power of attorney is part of a more comprehensive estate planning effort that provides you with all of the legal protections you need for a wide variety of potential and probably circumstances. At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our estate planning attorneys can help you make sure that your power of attorney does everything you need it to do so that there are no surprises later in life. To find out more about how we can help you to protect your own financial and health care interests, contact us online or call us today at (317) 684-1100.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.