Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What is a "power of attorney"? What are some of its uses? How can a power of attorney help during a family emergency?

"Power of attorney" means someone has been appointed to stand in the place of another.  We usually think of an "attorney" as someone who is licensed to represent someone in court, that is, an "attorney at law", but a non-lawyer might be granted "power of attorney" to stand in for another person at, say, a real estate closing.  Such powers of attorney are usually limited to a specific transaction.  The person granted the power to stand in for you is sometimes called an "attorney in fact".

"Durable power of attorney" is an extraordinary authority to stand in for another even if he becomes incapacitated by illness or injury. 
It is thus possible in most states to appoint a relative or friend to handle bills, checking accounts, investments, and other financial matters such as tax returns and property leases.  You should seek the advice of a lawyer practicing in your state before you do so.  The power granted, even if too broad, may be difficult or impossible to cancel if you are incapacitated.

A "healthcare directive" is sometimes called a "living will," "medical power of attorney," "healthcare proxy," and "advance directive" and varies in form and effect within each of the fifty states.  As strict as privacy laws are today, it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain medical information about a relative without express written permission.  A healthcare directive often has two purposes: to state a person's intentions if disabled and near death, and to declare which loved one has authority to make healthcare decisions for him.  Healthcare directives have grown in use since the Terri Schiavo case a decade ago.

The requirements for a healthcare power of attorney vary from state to state.  Hospitals and doctors' offices sometimes distribute forms for healthcare directives prior to medical procedures.  Nonetheless, the standard form will not necessarily work in every situation.  Good lawyering, like good healthcare, is generally not done with "cookie cutters."  A lawyer licensed in your state can make sure that the healthcare directive satisfies the state's requirements, declares intentions and choices regarding the prolonging of life, and names proxies who have authority to make healthcare decisions.

More here.

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