Powers of attorney are important and powerful documents. While it is true that everyone should have these documents in place to plan for unfortunate possibilities, it is also true that they grant other people significant power over aspects of your life. As such, one should use thoughtful and judicious decision-making when selecting the proper person or people upon whom to confer these powers.
A durable power of attorney is a document that grants a selected person or persons (the “attorneys-in-fact”) significant power over your personal finances and business. An attorney-in-fact may act in your place, just as if they were you, regarding your bills, bank accounts, business holdings, etc. The person you empower with this document should not only be someone that you trust to deal fairly and honestly with your best interests in mind, but they should also be someone you trust to make sound financial and business decisions. The best candidate for this responsibility will be someone who displays maturity, level-headed thinking, and knowledge of financial matters at least equal to your own. The wrong choice for an attorney-in-fact could leave you destitute or with piles of unexpected debt.
A healthcare power of attorney is just as important and serious a document as the durable power of attorney, but the ideal candidate for this responsibility may be very different. The person granted power under this document is known as your healthcare representative, and they will be charged with making some very serious, and perhaps emotional, decisions regarding emergencies and end-of-life care. Your healthcare representative will be asked to decide on medical treatments in any situation where you are unable to decide for yourself. This could be as a result of an accident or a sudden medical problem like a stroke or heart attack. It could also require them to make long-term decisions for you should you fall prey to Alzheimer’s or another degenerative condition. Regardless of the events that lead to the healthcare representative’s involvement, the decisions they make are almost guaranteed to be grave and emotional. Therefore, the ideal candidate for this responsibility should be someone who knows you well, and knows your wishes regarding healthcare and end-of-life care. The candidate should be someone who can be steady in emotionally turbulent circumstances, will follow your wishes even when pressured by others with different desires, and who you trust to make the correct choices if any circumstances arise that you did not specifically discuss. You should spend time discussing with this person your philosophy regarding medical and end-of-life decisions so that they can be prepared to make the same decisions for you that you would make for yourself.
It is also important to select at least one or two backups for each of these important roles in case the selected person cannot perform when the time comes (perhaps they predeceased you or were in the same vehicle accident that you were). These are roles that you will want to feel comfortable about the people selected to fill them, so leaving that possibility up to a court is ill-advised. If you have any further questions about powers of attorney, or if you would like to get yours established, please contact the Indiana estate planning attorneys at McNeelyLaw LLP.