As the Covid-19 pandemic continues affecting households across Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia, the need to plan for the unexpected becomes more pressing. A well-crafted power of attorney can provide you with the peace of mind of knowing that someone you trust will be looking after your interests if an illness or accident leaves you unable to make decisions for yourself.
An experienced attorney can help you understand the benefits and limitations of a power of attorney (POA) and tailor one to meet your needs. Different life circumstances will require different documents, and there are several factors to consider before you schedule an appointment.
1. A POA can be effective only during the Principal's lifetime.
A POA is a written document that authorizes another person to act on your behalf. The person giving the POA is known as the Principal, and the person receiving it is the Agent. The POA can be effective only during the Principal's lifetime. Upon the Principal's death, the POA ceases to be effective. The Principal's debts, assets, and financial and legal affairs become part of the Principal's estate. The POA does not authorize the Agent to administer the Principal's estate or assign property to heirs. A will is the only document that can designate a personal representative to administer the estate, so many clients work with their attorney to prepare a will as well as a POA.
2. A POA must be tailored to your specific needs.
A general POA gives the Agent broad power to do almost anything for you. A limited POA gives your Agent authority to do certain specific things as spelled out on the document.
While the general and limited POA may give your Agent authority to oversee your finances or legal affairs, an Agent's authority to make medical decisions on your behalf is generally granted separately in an advanced medical directive or health care power of attorney.
A custodial power of attorney may be needed to delegate to your Agent any of the
powers regarding the custody and care of your children. The District of Columbia and Virginia have adopted different statutes regarding custodial POAs. Virginia, however, limits the timeframe a custodial power of attorney can be effective to 180 days.
3. More than one person can serve as your agent.
Any competent adult can serve as your Agent. It is important that you appoint someone you trust completely, because you are giving that person powers that could be abused. You can name Co-Agents to serve concurrently or a successor Agent in case your main Agent is unable to assist when you need him or her.
4. You can determine when your POA will be effective and you can revoke it at any time.
The general POA will take effect on the date you sign it, unless you decide to make it effective at a specified time. Your power of attorney remains in effect during your lifetime unless you revoke it. You can revoke or amend the POA at any time, as long as you retain mental capacity. If you are no longer able to understand what you are signing, a family member could petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator and revoke the POA if necessary.
5. A POA will help your family act on your behalf in the event of incapacity.
A durable POA guarantees that the powers granted to your Agent will remain in effect even after losing mental capacity. No person will be authorized to act on your behalf if there is not a proper POA in place at the time of your incapacity. Only a court can appoint a guardian for an incapacitated adult, usually after reading the report written by the court-appointed Guardian ad litem. Adding the necessary language to make your POA durable during incapacity can ensure your interests are protected and provide peace of mind by helping your family save time and money in legal fees during a very difficult time.
This post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. There is no attorney-client relationship until retainer agreement signed by client and lawyer.