Choosing a Power of Attorney in the Age of COVID
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard about the “Great Pandemic of 2020.” Given the sudden risk of incapacity, serious illness, and death due to the COVID-19 virus, clients are quite literally flocking to our (virtual) doors for estate planning guidance. This particular article, however, will focus exclusively on the Financial and Medical Power of Attorney – why you need these documents at all times, and not just during a crisis.
In short, Powers of Attorney are absolutely essential. They can prevent heartache and headaches for your loved ones and provide peace of mind for you. You, and absolutely everyone you know, need financial and medical Powers of Attorney.
What Types of Power of Attorney Do I Need?
There are numerous legal documents related to care when a person is suffering a debilitating or life-threatening illness or trying to prepare for any chance of incapacitation. The starting point is to be sure you have the big two—a financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney.
The Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney is a legal document where you appoint another person to act for you (called, an “agent”) should you become incapacitated, or in some cases, are out of the country or otherwise indisposed. Although this is not an exhaustive list, your financial power of attorney can give your agent the ability to act on your behalf to:
- Handle financial and business transactions;
- Make gifts;
- Settle claims and collect debts;
- Buy or sell things;
- Deal with tax matters; and
- Sign and execute contracts.
A valid and detailed financial Power of Attorney is absolutely essential. Without it, your loved ones might be required to run to Court to obtain guardianship over your person if you are suddenly incapacitated. Guardianship proceedings can take weeks, if not months, particularly given the Court closures associated with the Pandemic. It also takes valuable resources, both money and time, when your loved ones should be focused on you, not running to Court to deal with your financial affairs.
The Medical Power of Attorney
The medical Power of Attorney (Washington State also references this as a durable power of attorney for health care or healthcare power of attorney) is the companion legal document to the financial Power of Attorney. It lets you appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and cannot communicate what you want.
The scope of the medical Power of Attorney is, obviously, more specific than the financial Power of Attorney in that it deals exclusively with medical decision-making. This does not mean this document is generic, however.
It should include specifics regarding your wishes for care, including whether you choose home care versus institutional care, as well as information regarding any medical issues, allergies, food preferences, and other details you may want to share. This is a vitally important document and can act as a valuable guide to your loved ones during a crisis.
For everyday life, and especially in light of COVID-19, we suggest that you immediately get these documents in place. If your documents are more than a few years old, it is also advisable to get these updated to prevent any question as to their validity.
As hard as this is to think about, imagine your loved ones running to Court if the worst were to happen. This type of forethought can save your family from needless heartache, time, and expense. It is absolutely worth it!
Who Should Be My Power of Attorney?
You can choose any competent adult to be your agent. Many people choose a spouse, relative, or friend. However, the most important thing to remember is that you need to choose someone who:
- Will follow your wishes (and not merely do what they want);
- Has the ability and time to handle the tasks (a college student or elderly parent is perhaps not the best choice);
- Is willing to serve (this “appointment: should not be a surprise—ask the person first!); and
- Most importantly, is someone you can trust to serve your best interests
You need not select the same people for financial and medical decisions. In fact, many people choose different people for different roles. Washington State does not mandate one person for both roles.
Selecting the right person is an extremely important choice, so you should not make this decision lightly. We are experts at walking our clients through the process of choosing agents for each role. We can calmly and objectively advise you, and help to make the decision a straightforward one.
I Have a “Do Not Resuscitate” Order; Is That a Medical Power of Attorney?
The financial and medical Powers of Attorney are not the same as the Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) or a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). These are separate directives entirely.
Our office can also help you compose these types of end-of-life wishes, or you can make these directions made known directly to your health care provider. You can learn more about these documents from the Washington State Medical Association.
Are There Any Other Legal Documents I Should Have in Order?
Yes! There are numerous other documents you should have prepared, such as a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Living Trust, Healthcare Directive, Dementia Directive, Asset Spreadsheet, Guardian designation for your minor children, and others. All of these documents are part of a more complete and robust estate plan. If you’d like to know more, please contact us for more information.
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
We’ve all heard the horror stories – So and So passed away and didn’t leave a Will, or is in a coma with no Powers of Attorney. This area of law is complex, and you need to make sure your documents are done properly. More importantly, if you can do it yourself, why haven’t you already?
We Handle It All
You need an estate planning lawyer who can readily address your full estate and various types of Power of Attorney needs. Just because someone can draw up a basic power of attorney does not mean they are qualified to address your Will and other estate planning requirements. Washington State laws are complex, and it is important to find someone with experience working on all aspects of estate planning.
We Know the Law
You need an attorney who is up to date on the current and ever-changing Washington State estate planning law. For example, on January 1, 2017, a new Washington Uniform Power of Attorney Act, RCW 11.125 went into effect. This law added new rules for executing types of power of attorney documents. Only those who actively practice this area of law may be aware of the updates and changes.
Moreover, we do not use fill-in-the-blank forms you can buy online. These may not be legally binding as they often are not updated. Also, those who use them often do not know how to properly notarize or witness them after filling them out.
Don’t take a chance on protecting yourself, your interests, your wishes, and your healthcare needs. Have attorneys with proven experience draw up your documents.
The Harbor Law Group: Estate Planning for Everyone
At The Harbor Law Group, we want everyone to feel comfortable addressing their legal needs. We are a woman-owned law firm specializing in estate planning and business law in Washington State.