Power of Attorney Lawyers Serving Western Pennsylvania
A power of attorney is a critical component of any estate plan. There are several options when it comes to drafting a power of attorney depending on what your needs are. Heritage Elder Law & Estate Planning, LLC can help you determine what works best for your situation, whether the power of attorney is related to finances or healthcare. To learn more about how Heritage Elder Law & Estate Planning, LLC can effectively represent your interests in creating a comprehensive estate plan, contact our office today.
Financial Power of Attorney
The financial power of attorney is by far the most important document you can have in your estate plan. At Heritage, we refer to it as your estate plan’s cornerstone. Unfortunately, most financial power of attorney documents we see are not powerful enough.
The flip side of that statement is that while it is the most important document you can have, it can also be the most dangerous if it is put into the hands of someone untrustworthy. In Pennsylvania, once you sign the document, your agent has the ability to step into your shoes and make decisions without telling you what he or she is doing. There is more to the conversation than just naming an agent and signing a power of attorney. You have to be very specific as to what powers you are giving them. Do they have the ability to gift and why might that be extremely important down the road? If they are exercising their power, are there any hoops they have to jump through first?
Financial powers of attorney are often referred to as durable, which means that if you become incapacitated it is still effective. Powers of attorney can be effective immediately or they can become effective sometime in the future, referred to as a springing power of attorney. For example, this can be done if you have younger children and don’t want them to have the access and control that an agent would possess until sometime in the future.
Commonly, a spouse is put in control as power of attorney right away. However, when it comes to successive agents or the kids, maybe you don’t want them to be able to manage your assets unless they prove that you have a mental incapacity. There’s no right or wrong answer for all families. What are your planning goals? What are your needs? What are your concerns and who, within your family, do you trust? That conversation starts by sitting down with the elder law professionals at Heritage to help you navigate these questions.
Health Care Power of Attorney
Health care directives, commonly referred to as a health care power of attorney, health care proxy or health care agent, can be broken down into two parts. The first part is a health care power of attorney, which authorizes somebody to make medical decisions on your behalf should you lose your mental capacity. Unlike a financial (durable) POA, your agent cannot make decisions for you unless you have lost the ability to speak or communicate. Once you’ve lost the ability to speak or communicate, then your agent can make those decisions for you. You can allow multiple people to make the decision for you or can name the agents in successive order. It is common for families to want multiple people to be able to make the decision, but when it comes to the power of attorney, having a clear pecking order does have its advantages should there be a conflict that would arise in the future.
The second part of the health care directive is the living will. If you were in really bad shape, the living will becomes the rule book. Your health care power of attorney reads this rule book should you never be able to regain the ability to make decisions going forward. If you have an end-stage medical condition with no hope of a significant recovery, then your living will kicks in. The living will addresses any wishes that you might have, such as whether you do or do not want resuscitation or a feeding tube and how you want to be treated if you never regain your mental capacity.
Pennsylvania POA Requirements
On January 1, 2015, some changes were made to the power of attorney law in Pennsylvania. Now, two witnesses and a notary are required for the document to be valid. If you have an older power of attorney, as long as it was valid under the old law when it was put into place, it is still valid today. However, other significant problems could be lurking within your old planning documents. For example, often a power of attorney doesn’t give your spouse the ability to make adequate transfers between each other. Without adequate authority granted in the power of attorney, instead of being able to save all the assets we are left with the threat of losing everything.
Contact Heritage Elder Law & Estate Planning, LLC
When creating a well-rounded estate plan, it is important that you do not overlook a power of attorney. Whether you need a financial POA, a health care POA, or both, the skilled legal team at Heritage is here to help. Contact our office today to discuss your situation.