Updating Your Plan: Powers of Attorney

This is the first in a two-part series of articles on updating your plan. This first article examines the importance of updating Powers of Attorney, both Financial and Medical. The second part of the series looks at the importance of updating your primary estate planning documents, such as your Trust or Will. Together, these documents are the keystone in even the most basic estate plan and it’s important to keep them up-to-date.

First, what’s a Power of Attorney? It’s a document by which you appoint someone as your “Agent” to act on your behalf. If that Agent is unwilling or unable to act, the document can appoint one or more successor Agents. In other words, you give someone else (the Agent) powers you inherently already have yourself. With a Financial Power of Attorney, otherwise known as a General Durable Power of Attorney, you appoint your Agent to make financial decisions for you. The Power could be drafted to be “immediate.” In other words, the Agent would have the power to make decisions regarding your financial assets right away and without regard to your ability to make those decisions for yourself. In most states, you could make the Power “springing,” in other words it would only become effective upon your not being able to act for yourself because of incapacity. A Power of Attorney is “durable” if it continues notwithstanding you having incapacity. A Power of Attorney which is not durable would not allow your Agent to act during your incapacity.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney appoints an agent to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so for yourself. A HIPAA Power appoints an agent t to access protected health information.

It’s important to keep your Powers of Attorney up-to-date so that you have the people you want as your agents. Every year around the holidays, it’s a good idea to look at your Powers of Attorney just to check if they name the people you’d want as your agents. Maybe one of your agents is no longer appropriate. Maybe the person whom you’d named as an agent is now too old or too frail to be your agent. Maybe you have someone else you’d prefer as an agent. Perhaps one of your children is now an adult and you’d want to serve as your agent instead.

The agents you select under your Powers of Attorney are vital to your incapacity plan. Make sure you keep the right people in those roles.