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Assigning a power of attorney: the earlier, the better

Planning for the future of one's estate is important to ensure one's assets, properties and beneficiaries are protected and provided for in the event of one's passing. However, it is important to draft an estate plan when one is mentally competent to do so; otherwise, the estate plan may not have merit in the eyes of the court. As important as making plans for what will happen to one's estate after death, one should also plan for what will happen to him or her in the event of incapacitation. One approach many choose is a power of attorney.

A power of attorney will appoint an agent to act on another person's behalf to make important decisions regarding finances, health care options and other legal issues when that person is no longer able to make those decisions because of physical or mental impairment. The person assigning authority to the power of attorney is called the principal, and the person receiving the authority from the power of attorney is called an agent. Since the agent is basically taking over all important aspects of the principal's life choices, the agent must be someone whom the principal trusts to make such decisions.

How and when an agent can assume the role of power of attorney can vary; however, the agent is expected to always act within the best interests of the principal. A durable power of attorney is an agent who has the authority over a principal's finances, but the authority does not begin in some cases until two doctors declare the principal to be incompetent in making such decisions. For agents making health care decisions on the principal's behalf, or a medical power of attorney, their authority begins when the principal can no longer speak or make rational decisions. The power of attorney document can lay out guidelines as to how and when an agent can take over, but the agent must act in accordance with any stipulations provided in the document.

The thought of giving someone else authority over such personal aspects and decisions can be unsettling; however, making such a plan early on while still physically and mentally able to do so will provide peace of mind for the future. Anyone who is interested in creating a power of attorney could consult with an attorney experienced in estate planning and power of attorney documents.

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