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What is a durable power of attorney?

You may have heard your California friends and neighbors talking about their durable powers of attorney and wondered what these things are, how they work, and whether or not you should have one. As Caring.com explains, a durable power of attorney is your signed legal document authorizing someone else to make decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself.

Your durable power of attorney takes effect the moment you sign it and remains in effect until you revoke it or until you die, whichever occurs first. The one exception is if you designate your spouse as your representative a/k/a your attorney-in-fact and then the two of you divorce. In this situation your power of attorney automatically revokes when your divorce is finalized.

Many people choose to execute two separate durable powers of attorney, one for health care purposes and the other for financial purposes.

Health care power of attorney

You probably have definite ideas about the type of medical care you want – and do not want – should you become injured, ill or incapacitated in some way. But what if you cannot make those decisions for yourself because you are in a coma or otherwise unable to express your wishes?

If you execute a health care durable power of attorney, you can specify exactly the procedures and therapies you do and do not want, including with regard to the following:

  • Mechanical life-support
  • Resuscitation
  • Feeding tubes
  • Pain and other medication
  • Palliative care

Your attorney-in-fact makes these decisions and carries out your wishes if you cannot do so yourself.

Financial power of attorney

Your financial power of attorney works the same way, but covers your financial matters instead of your health care issues. For instance, you can authorize your attorney-in-fact to do the following:

  • Pay your bills and taxes
  • Make your bank transactions
  • Collect your Social Security and other benefits
  • Manage your assets
  • Make investment decisions
  • Buy and collect the proceeds of insurance policies

Your attorney-in-fact

It goes without saying that choosing your attorney-in-fact is just as important as specifying what you want him or her to do and under what circumstances. Obviously you should choose someone in whom you have complete faith and trust. Most people designate their spouse or adult child as their attorney-in-fact, but others designate a close friend or business associate. Who you choose depends on your own individual situation.

While you should not take this information as legal advice, it can help you understand the way in which a durable power of attorney works and what to expect.

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