Powers of Attorney: An Inexpensive Solution for Unpredictable Situations

What is a Power of Attorney?  A Power of Attorney (“POA”) is a person you appoint in a legal document to make decisions about your health and/or your finances. Most of the time, a POA does not have any power whatsoever until you have been declared incompetent to make your own decisions. In certain situations, it can be beneficial for a POA’s decision-making powers to be effective immediately (even though you are currently capable of making your own decisions). For example, if you are bedridden or frequently away from home (e.g., military service, jail or high-travel career).

When is the right time for me to get a POA? Every single adult should have a POA starting at the age of 18.  A common misconception about POAs is that you don’t need one until you are much older. Unfortunately, we never know what challenges life may throw our way and there are a number of things that could render a person, including a young person, unable to make their own decisions (e.g., debilitating car wrecks, comas, drug use and illnesses).

What sorts of things can my POA do? POAs can have as much or as little power as you want them to. Some people limit their POAs powers to a single transaction, like closing on the sale of a house. Other people give their POAs the power to make each and every decision on their behalf. Common financial decisions made by POAs include paying your bills out of the funds in your bank account, signing contracts (e.g., agreements with assisted living facilities or home healthcare agencies) and selling assets to pay for your medical care or other needs. Typical healthcare decisions made by POAs include discussing your medical condition with your doctor, determining which medical procedures you will have, consenting to surgery and finding the proper facilities to care for your needs.

My loved one has been diagnosed with dementia.  Is it too later for them to get a POA? It depends on how severe their condition is. If the condition is in its earlier stages, the person may still be competent enough to execute a POA. When your loved one meets with an attorney, that attorney will ask them a number of questions to determine whether or not they meet the legal standard for capacity to execute a will.

Can I have different POAs for different things? Absolutely. You can have one POA for your healthcare decisions and a totally different POA for your medical decisions.

How much does a POA cost? As of 2018, the standard cost for a POA is $175. This cost could vary based on your specific requests.

What happens if I need a POA but I waited too late to sign the legal document? If you need a POA and don’t have one, your loved ones will find themselves in a position where they are petitioning a court to appoint a conservator on your behalf. A conservatorship action can cost thousands of dollars and may take a number of weeks, depending on how urgent your situation is. In addition, the court will ultimately decide who your conservator is. While immediate family members are given a preference, there are number of things that could disqualify them (e.g., criminal backgrounds and bankruptcies). If you don’t have an immediate family member qualified, willing and able to be your conservator, you could end up with a complete stranger making decisions for you. Click here to learn more about conservatorships.

About the Author

Amanda Jelks is licensed to practice law in Tennessee and Georgia. Her firm, Jelks Law, focuses primarily on legal issues that affect businesses and estates. Jelks Law was selected as the 2018 Emerging Business of the Year by the Urban League of Chattanooga. Amanda has been chosen as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers® for the last three years in a row. This award is given to less than 2.5% of attorneys in the mid-south who are under the age of 40 or have been practicing law for less than 10 years. Schedule a time to speak with her today.