There are two types of power of attorney documents that you can use depending on what you might need done:
- A healthcare power of attorney is able to help arrange your medical care or make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself. As long as you are able to talk to the doctor yourself, then you will still decide your care. But if you can’t make decisions, someone else will have to help decide what type of treatment or surgery you need, what prescriptions to get, where you will live, and even when to disconnect medical machines if you are being kept alive artificially. Your healthcare POA agent is legally bound to follow your healthcare preferences to the extent that they are aware of them. Your healthcare preferences should be made explicit through a conversation with your healthcare agent.
- You can also name a power of attorney for property. This person is responsible for decisions regarding your finances and assets. You can give this person as much or as little control as you like. They can be responsible for tasks like depositing checks, filing your taxes, managing your investments, or selling your property. Your financial POA agent can also hire accountants, attorneys, or financial advisors to help you and pay them through your accounts. The agent is legally bound to act in your best interest, doing only things that are best for you under your circumstances. They usually have access to handle your assets until your death or until you change your power of attorney document.
You may have heard of something called a durable power of attorney. In Illinois, every power of attorney is durable unless you specifically choose otherwise. So what does that mean? It means that if you get sick, the power of attorney is still valid and the agent you named can take action on your behalf. If it was not durable, then the power of attorney would expire after you got sick. Generally, you want powers of attorney to be durable because it is not helpful for them to expire when we need them most.
Also, keep in mind that the authority of your power of attorney ends at your death. The power of attorney is used to help someone act on your behalf while you are alive but unable to handle things yourself. Once you pass away, the power of attorney is no longer valid to take action. Instead your executor (or successor trustee) will take over and handle the after-death issues for your family.
What Happens if You Don’t Have a POA in Place and You Need One?
What happens if you never get around to signing a power of attorney, and you suddenly have a stroke and are not able to make decisions? Without a power of attorney, your family will have to ask a judge to name a guardian for you. This is a time consuming and expensive process that requires a doctor’s report, court filings, and official legal steps.
In the long-run, choosing to appoint a trustworthy power of attorney agent is a decision that will help protect your finances, your healthcare preferences, and even peace within your own family. Deciding about a POA ahead of time can help your family through emotionally draining decisions if you become incapacitated. Because of the importance of this document, it is a good idea to review your POA every couple years with your attorney. Creating an effective power of attorney document takes special care and attention, but is well worth it. If you would like to revisit your POA, you should schedule an appointment with your attorney.
Our website has a lot of great information on choosing good helpers like power or attorney agents:
- Important Advice on Choosing a Healthcare Power of Attorney
- The Checkbook Test: Can Your Executor, POA, or Trustee Pass the Test?
- Every Estate Plan Needs a Good Helper
- 3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan
- 7 Types of “Helpers” You Need to Watch Out For
If you’re ready to get your POAs in place, please give us a call at 217-726-9200 to set up an Initial Meeting.