No one wants to think about how their property will be handled in the event of an accident or some other type of incapacity. You may believe that your family or friends will be able to take care of everything for you while you are recuperating from an illness or surgery. In order to make sure that your designated friend or family member has the power to conduct business on your behalf, pay bills, talk to banks, and so many other jobs, you need a durable general Power of Attorney.
A Power of Attorney lets you designate which person will be in charge of your affairs if you are unable to handle things on your own due to an accident, illness, or some other kind of incapacity. Your agent (also known as an attorney-in-fact) will have the authority to complete the daily tasks on your behalf to keep your business, financial, and personal affairs in order.
You also want to make sure that you have a Power of Attorney before you actually need it. If, for example, John does not have a Power of Attorney and is in a coma, he has not appointed someone with authority to handle his affairs. If he has not put his new spouse on his checking account at Bank of America as a joint account owner, she will not have the power to access the funds in that account unless she is nominated as his agent in a Power of Attorney.
You can also change your Power of Attorney at any time and revoke a previous designation of agent. Executing a Power of Attorney also does not restrict how you can handle your own property while you have the ability to do so.
Advance Directive: Making Healthcare Decisions
Another important planning document is an Advance Directive for Healthcare. You may be more familiar with the term “living will,” and the new Advance Directive for Healthcare (ADHC) incorporates some of the pieces of a living will.
First, the ADHC is a mechanism by which a hospital or doctor can contact your healthcare agent in the event of an emergency. The ADHC allows you to nominate someone as your agent, and a second person as your alternate agent. If there is an emergency situation, you are unable to consent for your own person, and your ADHC is on file with your physician or hospital, staff will contact your agent for approval to perform certain medical procedures or make decisions for your care. If the hospital cannot reach your agent, they will then call your alternate agent for that approval and authority.
Second, the ADHC allows you to make certain choices about the care you wish to receive if you have a terminal condition or are in a state of permanent unconsciousness. You can choose whether or not you would like artificial respiration and other sustaining machinery, or no artificial respiration or support at all, or pain medication but not respiration, or some combination of the above. These choices will not only help your doctor know with absolute certainty what you want in your medical care, but the ADHC will also help your family members and friends know what your wishes are and eliminate any confusion during a stressful time.
Like the Power of Attorney, you can change your ADHC at any time if you would like to change your designated agent and alternate agent. Finally, the ADHC only gives decision-making power to your agent when you are unable to consent for your own care and unable to make decisions for your health care, and not before.
Plan for Peace of Mind
Having a Power of Attorney and Advance Directive for Healthcare will only help you, your family and friends, and your doctors during some of the most stressful periods in life. These documents will also make it easier on your family and friends to know what you really wanted in a situation when they may be unable to ask you. Please contact your attorney to prepare these documents and plan for peace of mind—for you, your family, and your future.
Jennifer Stakich Walker, an attorney with the law firm Dover Miller Karras Langdale & Brantley, P.C., practices estate planning, real estate, and business law. Please call (229) 242-0314 or contact the firm for your legal needs, including real estate, wills, probate, contracts, business law, adoption and family law. When calling for an appointment, please let them know that you (or your family member) are an employee of The Langdale Company.