Most Americans believe estate planning is a one-time chore that can be filed away after…
Generally, a power of attorney designates a trusted individual to act on your behalf. They could be related to personal finances, business operations, or medical needs and used for a single immediate purpose or an ongoing situation. This may sound pretty straightforward. When you are looking for services online, you might be tempted to download a free form to take care of it. But will that be enough to ensure that the document is legally recognized, important matters are handled quickly, and your specific instructions are followed?
Financial Power of Attorney
Suppose a business colleague wants you to take care of his business operations, making critical decisions while he is out of the country. He makes you his power of attorney by using a free legal document found on the internet that promises to contain everything he needs to comply with state law. It is noticeably concise, and you wonder why legal documents have to be so lengthy and expensive in the first place.
When you go to your friend’s bank to transfer funds and are denied access, you find out why. The bank has different forms and rules that need to be considered when a power of attorney is filled out. Your friend didn’t know this, and he can’t be contacted easily for several weeks. When you track him down, he will have to fill out additional forms with the bank and get them notarized before you attempt any more transactions. The legal document failed.
Health Care or Medical Power of Attorney
You receive a call about a good friend who has suffered a head injury and needs urgent nursing home care. He is looking at long-term care costs between $5,000 and $8,000 a month for rehabilitation but lives on a fixed income of only $2,500 a month from Social Security. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care services, and his income is too high to meet eligibility requirements for assistance from Medicaid. On top of facing a financial crisis, decisions need to be made about the level and cost of care he can afford, and your friend does not have the capacity to make them. You know what he has expressed in the past about specific treatments and efforts to prolong his life; you even witnessed the online form he used for a health care power of attorney. But his family members contest the document, and the doctors won’t listen without more specific advanced health care directives and a signed HIPAA release form. Another legal document failure.
The Dangers of Free Online Documents
How can online documents be legally approved for use by the public but be insufficient when you need to use them? The power of attorney documents that may have been helpful in the previous scenarios only offered general information for the most basic needs. With so many variables in finances, business, and medical situations, the language is not specific enough to address the unique problem.
When you get a power of attorney through an estate planning firm, each document contains wording regarding several circumstances and refers to other critical documents like living wills and trusts. Additional details instruct the person chosen to act on your behalf when dealing with decisions regarding banking and medical institutions or personnel. For example, it may permit them to set up another trust, reorganize assets, open and close banking or investment accounts, and require health care professionals to comply with your medical wishes.
A free online power of attorney could cost valuable time, money, and frustration. Many other legal considerations determine how your power of attorney will work. An estate planning attorney can go over common pitfalls and discuss options to avoid them. When you rely on legal documents to get an important job done or simplify decisions in an emergency, it needs to work as promised. Consult with an attorney to ensure you are prepared to handle any situation.
If you have questions or would like to discuss your estate planning situation, please contact our Heber Springs, Arkansas office at 501-365-3934.