Present and Future Protections Against the Unknown
A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you grant a selected person or persons the ability to act on your behalf in financial matters. This can include, but is not limited to: signing on your behalf during a sale, accessing your bank account to pay your bills, adjusting your investments, etc. As such, it is an integral part of any estate plan.
Unfortunately, with this important document come some inevitable risks. The selected person or persons will have access to and control over some of your most valuable assets. More importantly, once the access and control is given, they will be able to take actions without obtaining permission or approval; unless and until the document is revoked.
For many this is cause for concern. They worry that they are sacrificing the safety of their present assets for the sake of future protections against incapacity. And, to some extent they are correct. To protect yourself in the future, there is a certain amount of control that must be given up in the present. But, there are several ways to mitigate these risks.
Here are some of the main ways that this can be accomplished:
Select a Power of Attorney that you trust.
It is very important to think long and hard prior to selecting a person or persons as your Power of Attorney (also known as your POA). But, this choice is more than just finding someone that you can trust not to steal your hard earned money. (Though that is important.)
You should be looking for someone that you trust to make financial decisions in the same manner that you would. To do this, you must first carefully consider your beliefs/opinions/values regarding money. Then, attempt to select someone that mirrors those same beliefs/opinions/values in their own life.
It is also important to consider whether or not the POA you select can handle the responsibility of being your Power of Attorney. Handling the finances of another person can be a difficult responsibility that not everyone is capable of taking on. Carefully consider how the POA will balance their own responsibilities with your own. And, whether the POA will know when to seek assistance if the responsibility becomes too great.
Finally, it is important to make changes to your Power of Attorney Document if circumstances change. As time passes, life events may occur that give you reason to change your POA. Do not hesitate to make such changes, as you never know when you will need your Power of Attorney Document
Carefully Crafted Provisions within the Document.
Even when a POA has been carefully selected, your assets may still be vulnerable. The future is unpredictable and the person you once trusted may disappoint you. Therefore, it is important to have your Power of Attorney Document drafted to restrict the actions your POA can take.
One such provision could be a Restriction on Gift Giving. This provision would not allow your POA to make a gift of your assets to themselves. For example, should the POA wish to acquire your property, they would be forced to pay fair market value for it. Another provision could be to restriction the POA from making amendments to your Estate Plan. This could protect your Will and Trust from being amended in a way you would not have wanted.
Not all protective provisions will work in every situation. Carefully discuss your individual circumstances with your Attorney. They will be able to suggest specific provisions that will fit your needs.
Keep the Signed Power of Attorney Locked Away.
If you are still concerned regarding the safety of your assets, it may be an option to sign your Power of Attorney Document but keep it in your possession. As the signed original is required for the POA to act, without it they are powerless. You could then choose when you wish your POA to have access by simply delivering the signed document to them.
It is important to note that this course of action does not come without risk. If need arises for the POA to act, but they do not have access to the signed original, they will be powerless. If the Power of Attorney Document cannot be located or the POA does not know the document exists, it could then become necessary to petition the court for the authority to act on your behalf. A court petition could be a lengthy and costly procedure. And, it could ultimately result in a POA being selected that you would not have appointed.
Consider a Limited Power of Attorney.
This may be a good option for you if you have a specific task that you need done that you either cannot or do not want to do on your own. Often, this document is used during real estate transactions. For example, an attorney will be requested to attend a closing on behalf of a buyer or seller. In this case, the Limited Power of Attorney Document will allow the POA the ability to sign documents at the closing. Once the closing is complete, the powers granted to the POA by the Limited Power of Attorney Document cease.
Though this type of document may assist with protecting present interests by limiting the POA powers, it leaves much to be desired. A Limited Power of Attorney Document does not and cannot anticipate every need you may have in the future. Therefore, when the unexpected occurs, your POA may be left seeking court approval to handle the matter.
Consider a Springing Power of Attorney.
A Springing Power of Attorney is as all encompassing as a general Power of Attorney but it includes a specific provision that requires a certain event to occur before it becomes active. Normally, this event is incapacity.
Theoretically, this document offers the best of both worlds. You maintain sole control over your assets while you are capable then your POA can take over as soon as the activating event occurs. However, there can be significant downsides.
The significant downside and a reason why this type of Power of Attorney Document is not always recommended is the trigger event. If a need arises prior to the triggering event, a court order will be necessary. And, if the triggering event is incapacity, there can be several steps necessary to activate the Power of Attorney Document. These can include providing incapacity to a Doctor or court, which can take time that the POA may not have.