Power of Attorney Services
Guardianship is a legal process whereby a court appoints a qualified individual, such as Andrea, the authority to make decisions on behalf of a person who is deemed to be legally incapacitated; that is, a person (ward) who doesn’t have the capability to make decisions about his or her personal care or finances. Power of Attorney (POA) can be used as an alternative to Guardianship. It is less expensive because it is not court mandated. Yet, Power of Attorney for healthcare enables a person, such as Andrea, to make important healthcare decisions for you when you cannot make such decisions yourself. Similarly, Power of Attorney for property enables a person, like Andrea, to handle and protect your money and assets when you are no longer able to do so yourself.
As explained by the Illinois Legal Aid Society on its website, Power of Attorney is a formal written document that lets a person whom you choose to make decisions on your behalf. At the time POA is granted – usually to a spouse or trusted relative or friend – you must be capable of signing the document, and should be cognizant of what you are signing when doing so.
The person to whom you give Power of Attorney is the “agent” and you are the “principal.” You can use POA for Healthcare to instruct your agent what decisions you want made for you. You may grant the agent permission to make all of your health care decisions or you can limit his or her discretion only to specific decisions or circumstances. As Illinois Legal Aid notes, examples include decisions about
- Medical treatment
- Admitting you to a hospital or other facility
- Discharging you from a hospital or other facility
- End-of-life care
- Authorizing an autopsy or donation of your body to medical research
POA documents must be signed while the person granting Power of Attorney is mentally competent and before he or she is legally incapacitated by advanced age, injury or illness. For example, when a relative was diagnosed with breast cancer and knew she would be facing aggressive treatment and surgery, she went ahead and gave POA for healthcare to a trusted family member. At the same time, she granted POA for property, in the event she would need someone else to manage her bills and checking account, etc.
Again, as explained by the Illinois Legal Aid society, Power of Attorney for property ensures that your financial matters are handled properly if you can't manage them yourself. If you are too ill or disabled to make financial decisions, POA for property enables your trusted agent to make all or some of those decisions on your behalf. As is the case with POA for healthcare, you can grant your agent full discretion over your finances, or limit his or her scope to only certain situations or tasks. Examples of specific tasks include, but are certainly not limited to,
- Paying bills
- Contributing to or withdrawing from a retirement plan
- Dealing with any insurance or annuity policy
- Accessing safe deposit boxes
- Selling property
- Handling an estate
- Managing Social Security, unemployment, and military benefits
As Illinois Legal Aid points out, you should speak with your intended agent before giving him or her Power of Attorney, in order to ensure that her or she is willing, ready, and able to make decisions if asked. If you grant Power of Attorney, your agent is not legally required to use the powers granted. He or she also does not have to take responsibility for your financial decisions. However, if your agent does act, he or she must act in your best interest.
Often, a POA agreement sets a time that the power starts and when that power ends. You can change your agent or modify his or her rights by changing the POA at any time. The only time you can't change or stop a POA is when you are mentally incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for yourself.
As is the case for POA for healthcare, it is advisable to have a lawyer prepare your POA for property if possible. This can help ensure that the POA includes all pertinent details about you and your financial situation. As Illinois Legal Aid observes, the lawyer can also help to make sure that both you and your agent fully understand the POA documents.