In an earlier blog post, Brian M. Douglas & Associates wrote about the three estate planning documents that everyone should have: a last will and testament, an advanced directive for health care, and a power of attorney. We’re taking a closer look at the power of attorney and how it is a valuable tool for protecting both yourself and your loved ones – especially in times of uncertainty or emergency.

What is a Financial Power of Attorney?

We’re discussing two primary types of power of attorney documents today – a financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney is a legal document with which you enable another person (called your agent) to act on your behalf in case you are sick, injured, other otherwise incapacitated. Your named agent can help manage financial, real estate, or legal matters. They can go to the bank for you, check your P.O. Box, help file tax documents, or even help keep your business up and running.

The person creating the power of attorney can choose when this document goes into effect (ex: immediately, only in an emergency or under specific circumstances, or at a certain date in the future). This document doesn’t take away someone’s legal rights; it authorizes a second person to help with certain tasks or decisions.

A Power of Attorney is NOT Automatic

While it is common for people to name their spouse or their child as their power of attorney, under Georgia law, spouses and children do not have automatic, legal power of attorney status. The person creating the power of attorney has to fill out and sign the appropriate legal paperwork to ensure their chosen agent can act on their behalf. If a person becomes incapacitated and does not have a power of attorney in place, the court may appoint a conservator or guardian to handle financial and legal matters. That conservator or guardian may not necessarily be who he or she would have chosen.

Power of Attorney for Minor Children

In addition to helping with estate and business matters, a power of attorney can also help take care of minor children (children who are 17 years and younger). Under Georgia law, a power of attorney can arrange medical care, access medical or educational records, feed, house, and entertain a minor child. The legal status can be effective for a certain amount of time or until revoked. There are just two requirements for the agent: that he or she is an adult and a resident of Georgia. They do not have to be related to the child. For the power of attorney form to be valid, both the parent and the caregiver must sign it, and the paperwork must be notarized. Parents naming a power of attorney for their children may also want to include a general permission letter and a medical consent letter with the power of attorney paperwork.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney, also known as a health care agent or health care proxy, is the person who will make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to do so because of illness or injury. In Georgia, a person names their medical power of attorney as part of their Advance Directive for Health Care. This agent can also look at your medical records and speak with your health care professionals.

Unlike the financial power of attorney, if a person is incapacitated, their spouse or children do automatically have some decision-making authority (ex: consenting to treatment). However, family members could run into problems if they want to look at records or speak with doctors. The safest route would be to name the family members on the Advance Directive for Health Care and to make sure that both the medical power of attorney(s) and the doctors have a copy of that legal paperwork.

Have additional questions? Contact the estate planning team at Brian M. Douglas & Associates

Just as important as drafting your power of attorney documents, is making sure they are up-to-date. Once you prepare your paperwork, be sure to review it every once in a while to make sure it reflects your family status and your wishes. If you have additional questions about a financial or medical power of attorney, or if you would like to schedule an estate planning consultation, please reach out to us at (990) 933-9009.