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Power of Attorney in Estate Planning: Why It Matters

What is Power of Attorney?

The power of attorney is a powerful tool that can impact the lives of yourself, friends, and family long after the principal is deceased. “Power of attorney over a person, who is known as the principal, is most often utilized when the individual handing over power has concerns about their ability to make legal decisions for themselves,” says the Attorney Referral Service by the San Francisco bar association, which can help potential agents (or those who possess power of attorney) claim power of attorney in California.

The power of attorney is not only useful in legal or financial situations involving a deceased person’s estate. Any time you need someone to act in legal matters on your behalf, you can bestow upon them power of attorney to handle your affairs.

You can assign power of attorney for the duration of a short business deal or after a specific future event comes to pass. Some people assign power of attorney for matters of convenience in business, but it is most often used in wills to designate an agent in case of debilitation or death on the part of the principal.

For Your Parents

Having a conversation with your parents about their deaths is not easy business. However, it is a necessary evil we must all eventually go through, and it is better to get it out of the way when your parents are still of sound mind and body.

Encouraging your parents to draft a will or estate plan is in their best interests as well as yours. This becomes especially prudent if you or your parents have a lot of siblings. Estate planning is a great way to ensure that your parent’s friends and loved ones will not be distracted by petty disagreements or confusion after the principal’s death and can focus on mourning properly.

Sit down with your siblings, parents, and any other interested parties to hash out who should be preemptively assigned power of attorney.

For Yourself and Your Children

If one of your children or a third party contests your will after death, your family could be in for a drawn out and painful process. The contestation of a will can lead to more than hurt feelings between loved ones: your last wishes may not be met.

To avoid sowing conflict between family members, you can preemptively assign power of attorney. This itself may lead to hurt feelings, if one child or sibling feels as though they would better serve as the executor of your estate. But it is better to hurt feelings now, when you are alive, than to subject your mourning loved ones later to even more grief and heartache.

Take a hard look at your children, siblings, and spouse. Who has the best understanding of your desires for your assets post-mortem? What does the divestment of your state look like to you? It is important not only to choose someone who has a thorough knowledge of your value system, but also who is fair and balanced in their treatment of others. You want an agent who can navigate strong feelings and who will not take things too personally when things inevitably get heated in the divestment process.

How to Choose an Agent

The nature of being an agent with power of attorney necessitates an even keeled and fair judgment. When choosing an agent for yourself, you should look for someone who has a thorough understanding of what you would like done with your assets after death or debilitation. You want to take care that your agent is committed to the full realization of your wishes after your demise.

If you believe you are a good fit to be an agent for a principal, make your intentions known during the estate planning process. Demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the principal’s values and communicate how you would handle any disputes which may arise between family or friends during the execution of the estate.

Choosing an agent to receive power of attorney goes beyond planning for one’s death. If you have health issues or would just like to prepare for any worst-case scenario imaginable, consider a durable power of attorney over a general power of attorney. A durable power of attorney will retain legal standing in the case of your incapacitation, whereas a general power of attorney’s purview ends the moment you become incapacitated.

If you get sick or are otherwise injured and need someone to act on your behalf, it is prudent to assign a durable power of attorney to a trusted individual.

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Danielle

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