Every adult has day-to-day affairs to manage,Guest Posting such as paying the bills. Many people are under the impression that, in the event of c
Every adult has day-to-day affairs to manage,Guest Posting such as paying the bills. Many people are under the impression that, in the event of catastrophic illness or injury, a spouse or child can automatically act for them. Unfortunately, this is often wrong, even when joint ownership situations exist.
The lack of properly prepared and executed power of attorney can cause extreme difficulties when an individual is stricken with severe illness or injury rendering him/her unable to make decisions or manage financial and medical affairs. All states have legal procedures, guardianships or conservatorships, to provide for appointment of a Guardian. These normally require formal proceedings and are expensive in court. This means involvement of lawyers to prepare and file the necessary papers and doctors to provide medical testimony regarding the mental incapacity of the subject of the action. The procedures also require the involvement of a temporary guardian to investigate, even intercede, in surrogate proceedings. This can be slow, costly, and very frustrating.
Advance preparation of the power of attorney can avoid the inconvenience and expense of legal proceedings. This needs to be done while the principal is competent, alert and aware of the consequences of his/her decision. Once a serious problem occurs, it is too late.
A federal regulation known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was recently adopted regarding disclosure of individually identifiable health information. This necessitated the addition of a special release and consent authority to all healthcare providers before medical information will be released to agents and interested persons of the patients. The effects of HIPAA are far reaching, and can render previously executed estate planning documents useless, without properly executed amendments, specifically addressing these issues. As HIPAA affects not only new documents, any previously executed documents are affected as well. Any previously executed Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Revocable Living Trusts, and certainly all Medical Directives should have HIPAA amendments. A Power of Attorney is an appointment of another person as one's agent. A Power of Attorney creates a principal-agent relationship. You, the grantor of the Power of Attorney, are the principal. The person to whom you grant the Power of Attorney is your agent. The agent is normally called an "attorney-in-fact." The attorney-in-fact does not become the owner of your property, but is merely permitted to deal with it within the terms set out in the Power of Attorney. Since an attorney-in-fact has the power to deal with your property, you, naturally, must be careful to give such a power only to a trustworthy person. You have entrusted to your attorney-in-fact those powers which are stated in your Power of Attorney. The Power of Attorney if effective upon signing is a "durable power." This means that if you should become incompetent and be unable physically or mentally to handle your own affairs, the Power of Attorney, nevertheless, will continue to be as good as it was on the day that you signed it. If you become incompetent, the Power of Attorney will terminate only upon 1) a Court's declaring you to be incompetent or 2) upon your death. The attorney-in-fact may continue to use the Power of Attorney and acts performed under the Power of Attorney will be valid until either of those two events occurs, after which time acts performed by the attorney-in-fact will no longer be valid. Consequently, even if you become incompetent but no Court declares you to be so the Power of Attorney will still be effective. Most people who give a Power of Attorney to someone else do it with the thought that if they should become ill or incapacitated or if they should travel, the Power of Attorney will permit the holder of it to pay their bills and to handle all of their affairs for them as limited in the Power of Attorney. This is what your attorney-in-fact may do for you under the Power of Attorney. The granting of a Power of Attorney is not like the creation of a joint tenancy in property. Under a joint tenancy, each of the joint tenants has a property interest in the property so held, whereas, a person holding a Power of Attorney, while having the power to deal with the property, does not own any part of it nor can that person become the owner of it under the Power of Attorney by virtue of the Power of Attorney itself. This, however, does not prevent the holder of the Power of Attorney from transferring the property to himself or herself. This is another reason for giving such a power only to one whom you can trust. Whenever your attorney-in-fact exercises any of the powers granted under the Power of Attorney, your attorney-in-fact must be prepared to show the Power of Attorney to anyone who questions the right to use it. If your attorney-in-fact deals with the title to real estate, it will be necessary for the Power of Attorney to be recorded. There is usually no reason to record the Power of Attorney until such time as property may be conveyed unless there is fear that the document might be lost. A new website focusing on Wills and Elder law issues has been set up called Central Jersey Elder Law, found at www.centraljerseyelderlaw.com.
Edited by Craig Renitsky, Dickinson College
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