What is Power of Attorney?
Power of attorney is a document that you sign that grants a family member, friend, or other individual, referred to as an “agent” in Washington, the power to make decisions on your behalf. These documents can be extremely helpful in for family and medical personnel to know who to listen to when they need to make a decision if you are not lucid enough to consent. Power of attorney is also useful when you are lucid to help make decisions and delegate responsibilities that you don’t have time for.
There are several typos of POA in Washington State.
The main two that are included in estate plans are:
Financial Power of Attorney
Financial Power of Attorney allows your pre-designated agent to handle financial matters, or matter pertaining to business or investment. Agents with financial powers of attorney may also be able to engage with stock holdings, banks, taxes, retirement plans, real estate, and government benefits. In most cases, financial POA take effect immediately after signing. This is unless you stipulate specific situations in which authority is activated.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
Healthcare Power of Attorney grants the agent the ability to make decisions pertaining to your health in the the event that you become incapacitated or cannot speak for yourself.
If you were to get into a serious car crash and needed an operation but were not awake to consent, the agent of your Healthcare Power of Attorney would be able to consent on your behalf. This also applies to medication and other healthcare decisions.
Note: This does NOT include being able to make the call on whether or not to keep you on life support (as long as you’ve completed a Health Care Directive).
Simply appointing a power of attorney doesn’t mean that they will have complete control over things. There are several options available to you when deciding who your POA is and how much power they will hold.
Specific power of attorney
Specific powers of attorney are typically granted on a temporary basis and grants the agent decision power over a certain specific tasks. For example, if you need someone to help paying your bills or help with the sale of property, you could appoint a specific power of attorney.
General power of attorney
General powers of attorney grant the agent the same authority that you have in your day-to-day life, over all your affairs, both legal and financial.
General powers of attorney differ from durable powers of attorney in that all authority ceases in the event that you become incapacitated.
Durable power of attorney
Durable powers of attorney can be limited or broad. Either way their authority remains valid even after you become mentally or physically incapacitated.
In some states, “springing power of attorney” grants power to an agent to make decisions on your behalf, but only after you’ve been incapacitated.
In most cases you will need to sign a separate “durable healthcare power of attorney” in order to grant your agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Benefits of appointing a durable power of attorney
Appointing a durable power of attorney and a durable healthcare power of attorney ahead of time can save you and your family stress and heartache. In many cases when medical decisions must be made there are many opinions flying around. Appointing a durable healthcare power of attorney ahead of time keeps your family from getting the court involved and streamlines the process of deciding what should be done.
Choosing an Agent
When choosing a medical power of attorney you need to appoint a competent, legal adult to be an agent. Children cannot be agents. Neither can those with mental handicaps.
Besides the legal side of things, you should consider your relationship with the individual you appoint as your agent. Are they trustworthy? Do they have your best intentions as heart? Choosing someone who knows you well and would know what you want can help give you peace of mind that you will be cared for appropriately.
Geographical location is also important to consider. Appointing someone who lives three states away in a mountain range with limited cellphone service won’t be a good pick for you.
In Washington state you are able to appoint co-agents if you have more than one person in mind. However, this can sometimes lead to sticky situations if the co-agents aren’t in agreement.
Naming an alternative agent is definitely a good idea though, in case your first choice is unable to fulfill their duty.
Creating a Financial or Healthcare Power of Attorney
If you want to create a POA you’ll want to meet with a licensed attorney who can help you fully understand the matter and help you create a plan.
In many cases your attorney will suggest including a durable power of attorney as part of your larger estate plan or trust.
Once your POA is created you will need to sign it. Though not required in Washington, notarizing a financial POA is a good idea, since banks and other financial institutions almost always require documents to be notarized before allowing agents to act in financial roles.