A power of attorney (POA) or letter of attorney is a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter.
Why is a power of attorney document so important? If something should happen to you (an accident or illness) that incapacitates you for a time or for the rest of your life, who is authorized to act on your behalf? Who has the power to speak on your behalf on medical or health care issues? Who will make business decisions while you are incapacitated? Who will make financial decisions on your estate?
How to choose your attorney-in-fact
The person acting on your behalf is called an attorney-in-fact. The actions of that person are legally considered to be your actions, so you should always choose a trustworthy individual. The attorney-in-fact can be a spouse, adult child, relative or trusted friend, so long as he or she acts in good faith on behalf of the principal at all times. That person is also required to keep accurate records, which are to be provided to you or other named individuals as a checks and balance system.
An attorney-in-fact is often paid a fee for his or her assistance. It is a good idea to establish that fee or set amount and the method for determining the pay scale. If an amount isn’t set, the court will determine how much to pay the attorney-in-fact.
Protecting your power of attorney
As we’ve often seen on television and in movies, relatives may call into question the power of attorney and your mental competence at the time of its signing, or even if the document is legal. There are ways you can protect the document and guarantee that your wishes are carried out.
Be sure to let your chosen person know where your POA is and where other important documents can be found so the question of whether or not a POA even exists is no longer an issue. You can also protect that document by making a videotaped power of attorney statement. You can obtain a doctor’s statement at the time the power of attorney was signed regarding your state of sound mind. Sign the document with multiple witnesses present. Review the document with your lawyer so he or she can testify to your mental health competency if it is required.
Voiding a power of attorney
• A power of attorney can be voided in several ways.
• Your death
• A termination procedure that was written into the original power of attorney document
• Destroying the document if you are still competent
• Revoking the durable power of attorney by a signed, notarized written document sent you’re the attorney-in-fact by certified or registered mail.
• Filing a revocation in the register of deeds office where the original document was filed
• The unavailability of the attorney-in-fact
• In some states, a divorce