Most people have heard the term “power of attorney” (POA). This is a legal document that gives another person—called your “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”—authority to act on your behalf, often for financial issues. You can give your agent expansive powers that allow them to manage all of your finances, pay bills, sign checks, borrow money, file tax returns, and buy/sell real estate. Or you can limit that power to specific tasks only. Typically, this authority ends if you become incapacitated.
Sometimes, however, there is language in the document that grants this power to your agent even if you are incapacitated. This is known as “durable power of attorney” (DPOA).
Most often, the DPOA is given to a different individual with authority to manage your finances and/or make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and be unable to make them yourself.
The Durable Power of Attorney for Medical Care
The DPOA for medica care is a specific legal arrangement that gives another person decision-making power when you (the principal) can no longer make these decisions on your own. Granting someone this power can be important if you:
- Are comatose or on life support
- Lose consciousness for a prolonged period of time
- Are critically injured
- Are incapacitated due to mental illness
Authority With Durable Power of Attorney
When an individual is acting as your durable power of attorney for healthcare, they can:
- Can make medical decisions on your behalf
- Accept or deny certain treatments
- Decide when to continue, extend, or end treatments
- Access information about your medical treatment, including patient records
If your estate plan doesn’t include a designation for the durable power of attorney, a California court may appoint someone to act in that capacity.
What to Consider When Granting Someone Durable Power of Attorney
Since the durable power of attorney can have a profound effect on your health, business, and finances, granting a trusted friend or relative the durable power of attorney should be among your estate planning priorities. When looking at potential candidates, you should consider:
- Whether an individual can be easily reached, by phone or in person, in the event you’ve been seriously injured or otherwise incapacitated
- Whether an individual is willing to make important, potential life-and-death decisions
- Whether an individual will make such decisions in accordance with your personal values and expectations
The Durable Power of Attorney Must Be 100% Clear
Your estate plan and power of attorney forms should contain clear, unambiguous language demonstrating that you have authorized a specific individual to act on your behalf. You should also know how to change your designation in the event of any unforeseen changes to your personal life such as a divorce or death.
An experienced California estate planning attorney can advise you on what the durable power of attorney does, its uses, and limitations. They can also help ensure that your power of attorney forms are compliant with state law.
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