Powers of Attorney: Commonly Overlooked but Critical

by Larissa Bixler Stein

When many people think of estate planning, a Last Will and Testament is the primary document that they have in mind. While a Will is certainly an important component of estate planning, you are under-protected if your estate plan includes only a Will. A Financial Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney are at least as important a Will because they ensure that someone you trust is legally appointed to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf in the event that you ever become unable to make these decisions for yourself.

What Happens without a Power of Attorney?

If an illness or injury renders you unable to make decisions for yourself and you do not have both Financial and Health Care Powers of Attorney, your loved ones (even a spouse) will most likely be unable to coordinate your medical care or access your assets to pay for your care unless they go to court to have a guardian appointed for you. Guardianship proceedings can be costly and time-consuming at a time that is already emotional and stressful. There is no guarantee that the court will appoint as guardian the person you would have chosen, and many times the court appoints a professional guardian whose ongoing fees are an added expense for the estate. We regularly help families through guardianship proceedings and do our best to ensure that these proceedings go as smoothly as possible, but it is often heartbreaking for us to see how difficult the situation is for our clients, especially since we know how easily it could have been avoided if Powers of Attorney had been in place.

Who Should Have a Power of Attorney?

Everyone who is at least 18 years of age should have both a Financial Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney. Remember that a person must be competent to execute Powers of Attorney, so if you have an aging family member, it is critical to encourage them to execute Powers of Attorney before it is too late. If you already have Powers of Attorney, it is a good idea to review them periodically to be sure that the person you have named to make decisions for you (referred to as an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) is still a good choice and that you have named backup agents in case your first choice is unable to act if and when the time comes. Please feel free to give the attorneys at Garrity & Gossage, LLP a call if you would like to know more about Powers of Attorney.

Larissa Bixler Stein is an attorney with Garrity & Gossage, LLP whose passion is helping those in North and South Carolina provide a more secure future for themselves and their loved ones through Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Guardianship, Probate, and Elder Law Services. Please note that this article is intended for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. Legal advice depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each individual’s situation. Those seeking specific legal advice or assistance should contact an attorney.