Why You Need a Durable Power of Attorney Now!

Planning for unfortunate events such as serious illness or injury is rarely on anyone’s list of favorite pastimes. Sometimes, though, enduring the small discomfort that may accompany preparing for the unexpected will avoid untold anguish on the part of your family and friends. This is certainly the case with the Durable Power of Attorney, an often simple document that becomes so very important if sickness or injury renders you unable to take care of your own affairs.

Power of Attorney Defined

A Power of Attorney is a document in which you (as the “Principal”) allow someone else (the “Agent” or “Attorney-in-fact”) to act legally on your behalf. The Power of Attorney may be limited to very specific actions that the Agent is authorized to take on your behalf. On the other hand it may give the Agent very broad powers. In either event, the Agent you appoint in the Power of Attorney should be someone that you trust without reservation. That could be a family member, an advisor, a trustworthy friend or a bank or similar institution.

The “Durable” Power of Attorney

The significance of having a “Durable” Power of Attorney is best understood if you know what can happen with the plain old garden variety of Power of Attorney.

If you sign a Power of Attorney that is not “durable,” the document remains effective only while you are alive and competent to handle your own affairs. If you become incompetent or die, the Power of Attorney is automatically revoked by law and your Agent is no longer able to act on your behalf. This prevents a Power of Attorney from becoming irrevocable inadvertently, and, until recent times, it was the only way a Power of Attorney could be prepared.

The non-durable Power of Attorney has limited usefulness for family and estate planning purposes, though, because the Power of Attorney is often most needed when you have become incapacitated! That is when you really need someone else that is able to make legal decisions or take other actions on your behalf.

All fifty states now permit the use of a “durable” Power of Attorney that is not revoked simply because the Principal becomes incapacitated or mentally incompetent. This makes the Durable Power of Attorney a far more reliable document, particularly for family and estate planning purposes, since you may now authorize your Agent to act on your behalf even after illness, injury or other cause has rendered you unable to manage your own affairs. Even with a Durable Power of Attorney, however, the Principal’s death causes an immediate revocation of the document and termination of the powers that are given to the Agent.

A Matter of Convenience

The Durable Power of Attorney is often used as a matter of convenience.

Suppose, for example, you have your home listed for sale. You have also planned a long awaited trip to visit Aunt Trixie in Deadwood, South Dakota, and you are concerned that an interested buyer may come along while you are on the road. A Durable Power of Attorney would be handy here to appoint someone you trust to act in your absence to negotiate the sale and sign any documents that are needed to make the deal binding.

The Durable Power of Attorney could be prepared so that it is effective only until the date you plan to return from your trip, and it might describe specific terms that your Agent must include in the sale, such as the minimum sale price that is acceptable to you.

A Matter of Protecting Loved Ones

What happens if, from illness, injury or another cause, you become physically or mentally incapacitated to the point that you are no longer able to handle your own legal affairs?

Let’s suppose again that while you are incapacitated it becomes necessary to mortgage your home to pay your medical bills. Who will sign the mortgage? Even if your home is jointly owned with your spouse, he cannot obtain a mortgage without your signature.

In those circumstances it would be necessary to request the local probate court to appoint a guardian for you that has the power to handle your legal affairs. In many states, this type of guardian is referred to as a “conservator”. Included in the conservator’s powers might be the power to borrow money and sign a mortgage on your behalf making it possible to obtain the funds needed to pay the medical bills.

However, you may have heard that it is advantageous to avoid probate whenever possible, particularly if there is a good alternative available. The delay and expense associated with probate proceedings and the fact that they are conducted in the probate court, a public forum, make that good advice in most circumstances. And there is a better alternative than probate, but it requires you to act before the incapacity arises – you need to sign a Durable Power of Attorney.

When used in this estate planning context, the Durable Power of Attorney is generally worded very broadly to give your Agent the power to step into your legal shoes in almost any circumstance. In effect, you tell your Agent “You can do anything I can do.”

Now, if you have prepared the Durable Power of Attorney and then become incapacitated, no one has to go through a probate proceeding to appoint a guardian or conservator to act for you – you have already given your Agent the power to do so. As you can see, the Durable Power of Attorney can save precious time and expense in critical situations and avoid having your personal affairs become the subject of a public proceeding.

Appointing a Successor Agent

It is often a good idea to appoint one or more successor Agents. The Agent you appoint in your Durable Power of Attorney may die or for some other reason become unable or unwilling to act as your Agent. In that case, you may be left without someone to act for you when you most need that assistance.

Appointing successors to your first choice of Agent helps insure that someone is always available to handle your affairs. Of course, each successor that you appoint should be someone that has your complete trust.

Revoking a Power of Attorney

As long as you are competent, you have the power to revoke your Durable Power of Attorney. To do so, send written notice to your Agent notifying him or her that the document has been revoked. Once the Agent has notice of your revocation, the Agent may take no further action under the Durable Power of Attorney. However, your revocation will not undo any permissible actions that the Agent has taken prior to being notified that the Power of Attorney has been terminated.

You must also notify third parties with whom your Agent has been dealing that the Durable Power of Attorney has been revoked. For example, if the Agent has been dealing with a stockbroker, you must notify the stockbroker as soon as possible. Do this in writing, as well, and do it immediately. Third parties who do not receive notice of the revocation are entitled to, and probably will, continue to rely on the Durable Power of Attorney.

Making the Durable Power of Attorney Effective upon Incapacity.

It is possible to have a Durable Power of Attorney that only becomes effective if and when you become incapacitated. This document is referred as a “springing” Durable Power of Attorney because it “springs to life” on the occurrence of a future event – your incapacity. The document should include a detailed definition of “disability” to make clear the circumstances in which your Agent may act on your behalf.

Knowing that your Agent is unable to exercise his or her powers until you are actually unable to do so yourself may make using the Durable Power of Attorney more comfortable for you. Unfortunately, even with a good definition of incapacity in the springing Durable Power of Attorney, your Agent may find that third parties are simply not willing to make the judgment that you are indeed disabled. If they are wrong, they may be held liable to you for any damages that you sustain as a result of the error in judgment. You may therefore find the springing document cannot be relied upon in all circumstances.

Don’t Procrastinate!

Estate planning is easy to put off. But don’t! Advance planning, such as executing a Durable Power of Attorney, may make a horrible circumstance for you and your family just a bit more bearable.

Defending Against Abuse of a Power of Attorney

Attorneys will advise you that you should have a power of attorney. A Power of Attorney is an important document that allows someone else to handle your affairs if you have difficulty or are unable to do so. With age and illness, a Power of Attorney often becomes necessary. Usually the person who is given the authority to act will do so with the best of intentions. What happens, however, if the person you trust misuses the Power of Attorney for personal gain or benefit? A Power of Attorney may seem like a simple document, but it can have far-reaching and unintended consequences. A Power of Attorney can be very tempting to the person who has it.

A Power of Attorney is a legal document by which a person (the “Principal”) gives someone else (the “Agent” or “Attorney-in-fact”) the authority to act on the Principal’s behalf. If the Principal becomes ill, incapacitated or otherwise unable to handle her financial affairs, or simply chooses to let someone else do it for her, the person or persons she designated in the Power of Attorney can pay bills, deal with banks, lawyers and other professionals, and do other things that are in the best interest of the Principal.

A Power of Attorney can be general, meaning that it gives the Attorney-in-fact the authority to do whatever the Principal might do for herself, or limited, meaning that it is limited in scope and/or time. For example, a Power of Attorney may be limited to one specified act or type of act, such as a limited Power of Attorney to attend a real estate closing and sign the closing documents on behalf of a buyer or seller, or it may be limited in time, such as a Power of Attorney that is effective only during the time that someone is out of the country on a trip. A Power of Attorney also may be durable, meaning that it takes effect upon its execution (or a specified date) and continues in effect even if the Principal becomes incapacitated, or springing, meaning that it only takes effect after the Principal is incapacitated (or some other definite future act or circumstance). The problem with a springing Power of Attorney is that it requires a judicial determination of incapacity for the power to take effect. This can take a considerable amount of time – plus the initiation of legal proceedings, the hiring by the Court of an independent person to interview and investigate the circumstances of the alleged incompetent, and a hearing in Court – often exactly at a most trying time when there is a need for prompt or immediate action.

In New Jersey, a Power of Attorney can include provisions with respect to making health care decisions, including the power to consent to any medical care, treatment, service or procedure. A health care power of attorney is different than a “Living Will”, which is a written statement of a person’s health care and medical wishes, but does not appoint another person to make health care decisions.

A Power of Attorney is a useful and powerful tool. Unfortunately, as with many things, something with a good purpose still can be used for improper purposes. A general Power of Attorney allows the Agent or Attorney-in-fact to do almost anything the Principal could or might do herself. As a result, it can be an invitation to abuse and self-dealing.

The victim of Power of Attorney abuse often may not be aware of what is happening, or even if she is may feel powerless to say or do anything because she is dependent on the abuser for care and companionship. The nature and extent of the abuse may not come to light until after the person has died and someone else is able to obtain access to her banking and other financial records.

Disputes can arise when the Agent or Attorney-in-fact has used the Power of Attorney to transfer the Principal’s assets to himself or his family members. This may be done as an estate planning technique, such as making gifts to take advantage of the annual exclusion from gift taxes. On the other hand, it may be done to deprive other family members of a share of the Principal’s assets that they otherwise might eventually inherit. For example, a person may wrongfully use a Power of Attorney to withdraw money from the Principal’s bank accounts and deposit the money in his or own bank account. We have seen this and been involved in litigation to get the money back.

Under New Jersey law, the traditional rule was that a power of attorney should not be construed to allow the Agent or Attorney-in-fact to give the Principal’s assets to himself or others without clear language in the power authorizing such gifts. See Manna v. Pirozzi, 44 N.J. Super. 227 (App. Div. 1957). In 2004 in New Jersey a law was passed stating that a Power of Attorney shall not be construed to authorize the Attorney-in-fact to gratuitously transfer property of the Principal to the Attorney-in-fact or any one else except to the extent that the Power of Attorney expressly and specifically so authorizes. N.J.S.A 46:2B-8.13a. If this happens, the Superior Court, upon application of any heir or other next friend of the Principal, may require the Attorney-in-fact to render an accounting (i.e. an explanation of when and for what the money was used) if there is doubt or concern whether the Attorney-in-fact has acted within the powers delegated by the Power of Attorney for the benefit of the Principal. N.J.S.A. 46:2B-8.13(b).

A Power of Attorney also may be attacked as having been procured by undue influence, or when the Principal already was incompetent and therefore legally unable to execute a Power of Attorney. This type of action is similar to a will contest in which a will is claimed to have been procured by undue influence, or in which it is claimed that the testator was of unsound mind and unable legally to make a will.

Choosing an Ohio Child Support Attorney

Choosing an Ohio child support attorney can be a significant decision for any individual to make. The professional who you engage will be responsible for getting or maintaining your legal interests in your children, your material possessions, and your income. In reality, engaging an Ohio child support attorney might be a significantly difficult experience. Do it right and you can relax. Do it incorrectly and you may have to spend quite a bit of time recovering from losses that might have been avoided.

There are some time-tested tactics that you should consider applying at the time you engage an Ohio child support attorney. Prior to starting, you had better determine the type of case that you will need to retain counsel for. Could you be mediating your child support matter? Could you be negotiating? Or, might your lawsuit might be the type of matter that ends up in court and turns into a knock down, drag out child support battle?

It is possible to find an Ohio child support attorney who specializes in these different means of addressing matters and you need be sure that you hire the kind of Ohio child support attorney who is best suited to the kind of lawsuit that you will be dealing with. If you are about to confront a bitter battle, you should not select a mediation attorney to enforce your rights. And, if you are undergoing amicable mediation, the last thing you want is an Ohio child support attorney who will create problems for you and force you into litigation.

Thus, the first thing you must do in the process of hiring an Ohio child support attorney is to decide the type of lawsuit that you have. The second step, ask other people for assistance. Since the rate at which we divorce in the U.S.A. remains at about fifty percent, it is probable that you know a few other individuals who have experienced a child support suit. Inquire about their litigation, how they picked out an Ohio child support attorney, and how their attorney did on their behalf.

Subsequent to receiving feedback on several Ohio child support attorneys that you were given from checking with people, go on the internet and research each attorney and any others that you discover online. If an Ohio child support attorney has a site online, you can read it and check to find out if there are any articles on their site that they composed on child support law. You should likewise check and determine if they have promoted their website on the web on the issue of child support law. You can find quite a bit of significant information about how any individual attorney approaches legal actions and deals with their clients by screening their website.

After you have studied the Ohio child support attorney websites, compile a list of a few Ohio child support attorneys who you think you might be at ease speaking with. Contact the office of each child support attorney and schedule an initial interview/evaluation. A few of those attorneys will charge a fee for an initial appointment; the greater experience the attorney has, the more probable that you will have to pay for time with that attorney.

At the time that you go to an initial interview with any Ohio child support attorney, be ready. Write up an statement of your years of marriage, your family situation and the troubles facing you at present. If you or your mate has filed any documents in court, make it a point to take them with you. Take recent income tax returns or a recent financial statement so that the child support attorney can look at some of your financial information prior to being questioned regarding situational “outcomes”.

Be sure you ask every Ohio child support attorney questions regarding how that professional’s office manages client phone calls, emails or other questions. If you will be going through a child support attorney who has no other attorney in their office, be ready to wait on those occasions when you want a reply. That attorney probably has additional clients who have demands just as critical as yours, and any attorney can take care of only one client at a time. Even regarding that drawback, there could be an Ohio child support attorney who you sense is appropriate for your situation who is also a sole practitioner. That is a trade-off that you should be able to work with.

After you have finished each appointment and considered the answers to all of your questions, identify which Ohio child support attorney you are more at ease with and which you believe will work with you to get the sort of final result that you desire.