Most people generally understand the concept of a power of attorney – it’s a means by which you can give someone else the authority to act on your behalf. However, depending on the types of power you want to convey to a third person, you may need two different documents. In Missouri and many other states, the two most common types of powers of attorney are a healthcare power of attorney and a general durable power of attorney.
Keep in mind that you can only validly sign any type of power of attorney if you have capacity. After a person’s ability to make decisions is in question, any power granted under either of these documents will likely not be considered valid. This means you should endeavor to put these powers into place while there’s no question you have the ability to do so.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
As the name implies, a healthcare power of attorney allows you to designate a third person (your “healthcare agent”) to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. While many medical providers offer a very basic version of this document to their patients, these simple forms are typically institution specific (meaning they won’t necessarily be recognized if you receive treatment from another provider) and contain generic language that may not best suit your needs. Giving this power to someone is not a decision to be taken lightly – your healthcare and treatment decisions are exceptionally personal and have long-term implications. That being the case, we strongly recommend that you avoid relying on generic, once-size-fits-all forms and consider meeting with an attorney to discuss what options you have available.
General Durable Power of Attorney
A general durable power of attorney allows the person of your choice (your “agent”) to handle financial, legal, business and other such matters on your behalf. For example, this power of attorney may allow your agent to help you with banking, the sale of a house, or speaking with the IRS. Under this document, you can choose (1) when you would like this power of attorney to become effective (i.e., immediately or only when you can’t make decisions on your own) and (2) how much power your agent will have. Under Missouri law, an agent under this power of attorney can be granted incredibly broad authority. Generally, we recommend adding some reasonable limitations to what your agent can do (i.e., not being allowed to change your will or trust). This tool becomes incredibly helpful for folks who don’t have capacity to adequately manage their own affairs, regardless of whether this is because of temporary impairment (i.e., a short-term hospital stay) or permanent impairment (i.e., developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease).
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about powers of attorney (or other estate planning matters). We would welcome the opportunity to speak with you.