If you are like most Michiganders, you have heard a lot about durable powers of attorney but have no clear idea of just what they are, how they work and whether you may benefit from having one. In answer to the first point, a durable power of attorney is a legal document that your attorney drafts for you per your instructions. It designates the person of your choice, called your attorney-in-fact, who will make your health care and/or financial decisions for you in the event you become unable to make these decisions yourself.
The durability aspect of your power of attorney rests in the fact that the document becomes effective the moment you sign it. It then remains in effect until you revoke it or until you die, whichever event occurs first. There is, however, one exception. If you appoint your spouse as your attorney-in-fact and you and (s)he subsequently divorce, your durable power of attorney automatically terminates when your divorce becomes final.
As stated, your durable power of attorney can cover your health care preferences, your financial preferences, or both. Most people prefer to have two separate durable powers of attorney, one for each purpose.
Health care power of attorney
Your health care power of attorney sets forth the types and extent of medical care you want and do not want if you become too ill, injured or otherwise incapacitated to competently make these decisions for yourself and clearly communicate them to your doctor and other health care professionals. At that point your designated attorney-in-fact makes these decisions for you, carrying out the wishes you expressed in your power of attorney document.
You can be as detailed as you wish when setting forth your health care wishes. At the very least, most people include the following:
- Whether or not they want to be placed on mechanical life-support systems
- Whether or not they want resuscitation if their heart stops
- Whether or not they want to be fed through a tube, intravenously, etc.
- Whether or not they want pain or other medications, even if these could shorten their life
- Whether or not they want palliative care
Financial power of attorney
Your financial power of attorney sets forth the things you want your designated attorney-in-fact to do for you in the event you cannot do them for yourself or simply do not wish to do them any longer. Again, you can be as detailed as you wish, but most people give their financial attorney-in-fact the power to do the following:
- Pay their bills and taxes
- Handle their bank transactions
- Collect their Social Security and other benefits
- Manage their assets
- Make investment decisions for them
- Buy and collect the proceeds of their insurance policies
If you have very definite ideas about your health care and financial issues, probably the biggest benefit of a durable power of attorney is that it gives you peace of mind. You know you have not only stated your preferences in a legal document, you also have designated the person you want to carry out your wishes in the event you cannot do so yourself.