The following are a list of some critical issues to consider before you make the big decision to sign a power of attorney:
- Asset Protection – Nursing home costs in Florida can be outrageously expensive. Make sure that you really feel comfortable authorizing your agent to protect your assets from those costs. If you do, the agent may need to transfer ownership of certain assets to your spouse or children. Such authority must be clearly laid out in the power of attorney, and standard forms typically do not include this provision. Special powers need to be included to make these types of transactions.
- Health Care Issues – A health care power of attorney can allow your agent to make all kinds of health and personal care decisions for you whenever you are incapacitated. You can include instructions not only regarding end-of-life care, but also other situations that may arise. With a power of attorney your agent will be able to act for you even if you are not terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It is a good idea to give your agents some indication as to what your preferences are for daily activities. Without such instructions, you may not be doing what you want to do or participating in activities that you would prefer not to.
Your agent should be someone who understands your values and who will be willing to advocate for your wishes in whatever situation may arise. Your agent can review the circumstances, consult with the health care providers, consider the prognosis, and then apply your wishes as set forth in the document when making decisions.
Given the importance of such a document, it’s critical that you discuss your views on health care decisions with your agent and other loved ones. No document can anticipate the exact health circumstances that will arise in your future. Your family may have to make difficult decisions in ambiguous circumstances. Help them by talking with them now about your philosophy of life and death.
- Preventing Abuse – In the wrong hands, a power of attorney can be an excellent way to engage in financial abuse. The danger of abuse is especially great when the document includes the authorization to make transfers of your assets or to make changes to beneficiary designations. The best protection from such abuse is to choose someone as an agent who is completely trustworthy and will follow your wishes. But protective provisions can also be incorporated into your power of attorney. These include: 1) naming joint agents, 2) requiring approval by third parties for certain actions, such as transfers of assets, 3) limiting the persons to whom transfers can be made, and 4) requiring the agent to file regular accounts with third parties.
- Successor Agents – Just as you may someday be unable to make financial and health-care decisions, there is always a possibility that the person you choose as your agent may become unavailable to serve their role. Make sure you deal with this possibility by appointing more than one agent, either jointly or as a successor. Also, consider giving your agent the power to appoint a successor.
The power of attorney may someday become your most important legal document. A well-drafted power of attorney can be of enormous value to you and your family. A shoddy document can lead to disaster. If you have questions about estate-planning or creating a will or a trust, please contact a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer today or call (904) 685-1200.