Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself POA

Completing a Power of Attorney document is one of the most impactful things you can do to lessen the burden of caregiving on your family and loved ones. Power of Attorney documents are not crafted as “one size fits all” but instead are customized to reflect the varying needs of each individual family situation. 

Investing in an attorney to help you draft your POA document can help you better understand the terms of the document and minimize mistakes. Answering one question incorrectly on your POA document can lead to many problems in the future — problems that can be costly and emotionally taxing for you and your loved ones.

There are 3 dangers of doing a POA on your own that we’d like to briefly look at:

1. Too Many Powers – One problem with creating a POA document yourself is the possibility of giving your power of attorney too much power. While the form looks relatively simply, it is easy to answer a question incorrectly without a lawyer’s expertise and guidance. You could give your POA agent too many powers and open the gateway to elder abuse. Whenever you see a newspaper article about an older person being taken advantage of, it’s often the result of abusing a power of attorney.

Powers of attorney can be easily abused because they are not monitored by the legal system. Templates are easily available online and anyone can serve as a witness or notary, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind. Paying for the legal expertise is worth the security that comes from knowing your POA agent has the correct powers. Attorneys are ethically sworn to serve the best interests of their clients and can help you avoid elder abuse by assisting you in selecting a trustworthy power of attorney agent. Nominating a power of attorney (when done correctly) should give you peace of mind, not make you nervous.

2. Too Few Powers – Sometimes a person has a POA agent who is 100% trustworthy, but their powers listed in the document are so limited that they are unable to do the things that would be best. We have seen a number of families who were working on long-term care planning, hoping to seek benefits to pay for nursing home care. However, their power of attorney did not include certain powers that would have been helpful in that situation. For instance, unless we specifically state them, a power of attorney does not include the power to create a trust (which is a valuable tool often used for effective planning), or the power to make gifts to family. Yet, creating trusts and making gifts are often important parts of protecting money from a nursing home towards the end of life.

3. Not The Form You Need – If a power of attorney document is created without a lawyer, there is no guarantee that all banks or institutions will accept it. There have been a couple of law changes in Illinois in the last few years regarding powers of attorney. If you find an online document, is it the correct and most up to date form? If not, the bank may refuse to honor it, and they are within their rights to do so if it is not in the proper format.

As with so many things related to estate planning, every family and every situation create unique circumstances that fill-in-the-blank forms cannot adequately address. It is incredibly valuable to the have the help of an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to help guide you through the process while anticipating problems your unique situation may bring up. If you have questions about Powers of Attorney or any other estate planning/elder law issues, we urge you to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’re more than happy to speak with you.