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March 22, 2018

Power of Attorney: What to Know

Power of attorney documents come in two overall types – healthcare and financial. The first document allows you to choose who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself. The second type provides a similar function, but this one designates who can make legal and financial decisions for you.

AgingCare.com emphasizes how these documents should be prepared and signed “long before” you begin “having trouble handling certain aspects of life.” That’s because the person signing (the “principal”) must be considered to still be in “sound mind,” capable of making these important decisions, for the documents to legally go into effect. Powers of attorney “can be written so that the transfer of responsibilities occurs immediately.” Or they can be crafted so they go into effect if or when you become incapacitated, unable to make your own decisions.

If these documents aren’t signed, when a family member or friend needs to make financial, legal or health care decisions for you, he or she would need to go to court and ask to be appointed as your guardian.

An article in ConsumerFinance.gov compares the two processes:

  • Powers of attorney are privately created and “relatively inexpensive,” although you may choose to use a lawyer
  • The guardian process, though, “can be lengthy, expensive, and very public.”

With a power of attorney, you are in control, choosing whom to list. That isn’t necessarily the case when someone asks the court to be your guardian.

Choose Carefully

After choosing someone you truly trust, have a heart-to-heart conversation with him or her to make sure he or she understands your wishes. If the person you choose ultimately ends up being less than an ideal choice, you can change your power of attorney designation. The Consumer Finance article provides another tip: “Beware of someone who wants to help you out by handling your finances and be your new ‘best friend.’ If an offer of help seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

You can find more information about powers of attorney from AARP here and here.

Focus on Ohio

Laws, processes and forms vary by state. Here is information specifically about Ohio financial powers of attorney from the Ohio Bar Association. The article notes how Ohio’s law was updated in March 2012, with a key focus being to prevent financial elder abuse. When abuse of power does happen, the law now also contains statutes that assist in uncovering the abuse and remedying the abusive actions taken. You can read the entire article for more in-depth information about Ohio law. Consult an attorney with questions so your wishes are accurately conveyed.

The Ohio Bar Association also provides information about health care powers of attorney and the applicable laws in our state. The article includes specifics about actions your agent (the person you’ve designated as your health care substitute-decision maker) cannot take. Knowing these exceptions can often bring peace of mind to people who are reluctant to sign a health care power of attorney form.

Your agent does not, for example, have the power to withdraw any “life-sustaining treatment” without the conformation of two physicians that you’re in a “terminal condition or permanently unconscious state, and that there is no reasonable possibility that you will be able to make decisions.” You can read the entire article for more depth; again, consult an attorney with questions so your wishes are accurately conveyed.

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