What’s the Importance of Having a Financial Power of Attorney?

WMUR’s recent article, “Why you need a financial durable power of attorney” explains that a power of attorney is a legal document that allows another individual (your agent) or financial institution to conduct financial transactions for you, if you’re unable to do so. Without a POA, your family will likely need to petition the court make these decisions on your behalf.

Whether you’re young, elderly, single or married, it’s a good idea for everyone to have a power of attorney. For married couples, while your spouse can usually take care of the basic finances, many financial transactions require both spouses’ signatures. For those assets in your name only, your spouse will have no access.

One type of financial power of attorney is a durable power of attorney, which becomes effective upon signing and stays in effect through any incapacity and until your death—unless you revoke it. This POA typically lets the agent perform a wide range of financial transactions on your behalf. If you don’t designate that your power is “durable,” it may automatically end, if you become incapacitated.

Another type of power of attorney is a “springing” power of attorney, and it usually doesn’t become effective unless specific conditions are met. Typically, a physician must certify that you’ve become incapacitated. This POA lets you to control your affairs, unless and until you can’t do so.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to draft the power of attorney. This document is usually created as part of your overall estate planning. Note that it’s not the same as a medical power of attorney. That document gives your agent authority for medical, not financial decisions. To be fully effective, these POAs must comply with state laws, which can vary from state to state.

The typical powers granted to your attorney-in-fact or agent, are to use your assets to pay your normal expenses, collect Social Security, invest your money, handle banking transactions, gain access to your safe deposit box, manage property and watch over your retirement accounts. Aside from granting broad powers, the POA must be specific about certain rights granted to the agent. For example, the grantor gives an agent the right to make gifts on behalf of the grantor or the right to complete and file your tax returns.

Your attorney may also hold the POA for you pending release, if you should become incapacitated.  It is important to make certain to periodically review your documents and your estate plan, so that it reflects your current situation and goals.

Reference: WMUR (May 23, 2019) “Why you need a financial durable power of attorney”

Graduation Over? Time to Consider Legal Documents

It is wonderful to bring up the children, make sure they are educated and see that 18th birthday come along. However, it is important to recognize that many things change from a legal standpoint, according to grbj.com in “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Here are recommended steps to take so parents can still be involved in their children’s lives when they are needed:

Health care proxy/medical power of attorney. Even if you are the person paying for health insurance, you are not legally permitted to make decisions on their behalf. Have your child sign a proxy/POA form designating who has the primary authority to make health decisions, if he or she is unable to do so. This is especially important when parents are divorced: both parents need to have the proper forms. Your estate planning attorney will be able to prepare these for you.

Durable power of attorney. If your child has signed a durable POA, you will be able to handle their financial matters, especially if your child becomes incapacitated.

HIPAA authorization. Medical providers may not disclose a patient’s medical status, unless they have legal permission. Your child should sign a HIPAA authorization with each of their providers, giving the parent access to all their information. This is especially necessary for a child with health or mental issues.

FERPA waivers. This one takes many parents by surprise. Even if you are the one paying for tuition and all college expenses, the college will not provide academic records, including grades and tuition bills, due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Contact the college and find out exactly what forms they need to be sure you have access to all of your children’s information, including any health and mental health treatment.

Wills and trusts. If a child has assets and no descendants, they need a will or revocable trust to protect the parent’s taxable estate and allow someone to manage these assets, if they die prematurely.

Medical records. Make sure the child has access to their medical records, including medications, allergies, immunizations, etc.

Insurance. See if the family’s medical, homeowner’s and auto insurance coverage extend to a child living away at school and in another state. If the child is renting a house or apartment, make sure they have renter’s insurance.

Proof of identity. Make sure the child has access to their passport, birth certificate or Social Security card so they can get an internship or a job.

Bank accounts and credit cards. If the family’s regular bank does not have a branch where the child is attending school, the parents should consider opening a basic checking account at a local branch. Both parents and child should be on the account.

Registration. It’s time to register to vote and sons will need to register with Selective Service.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on the proper documents needed for your family.

Reference: grb.com (June 7, 2019) “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Power of Attorney: Why You’re Never Too Young

When that time comes, having a power of attorney is a critical document to have. The power of attorney is among a handful of estate planning documents that help with decision making, when a person is too ill, injured or lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are three basic power of attorney documents: financial, limited and health care.

You’re never too young or too old to have a power of attorney. If you don’t, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding, and they will make decisions for you. If the guardian who is appointed does not know you or your family, they may make decisions that you would not have wanted. Anyone over the age of 18 should have a power of attorney.

It’s never too early, but it could be too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. Then your family is faced with needing to pursue a guardianship and will not have the ability to make decisions on your behalf, until that’s in place.

You’ll want to name someone you trust implicitly and who is also going to be available to make decisions when time is an issue.

For a medical or healthcare power of attorney, it is a great help if the person lives nearby and knows you well. For a financial power of attorney, the person may not need to live nearby, but they must be trustworthy and financially competent.

Always have back-up agents, so if your primary agent is unavailable or declines to serve, you have someone who can step in on your behalf.

You should also work with an estate planning attorney to create the power of attorney you need. You may want to assign select powers to a POA, like managing certain bank accounts but not the sale of your home, for instance. An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor the POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select. You want to ensure that you don’t create a POA that gives someone the ability to exploit you.

Any of the POAs you have created should be updated on a fairly regular basis. Over time, laws change, or your personal situation may change. Review the documents at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of matters for you.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have a POA created. It’s an essential part of your estate plan, along with your last will and testament.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”