Disclaimer: This should not be considered legal advice. Each situation is unique and you should consult your attorney for advice.
We hear it often when it comes to planning – make sure your affairs are in order. There are documents that can help you get these legal affairs in order. A Power of Attorney or POA is one of the documents that can be most helpful.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney (POA) is a document giving one, or more, person(s) authority to act on your behalf.
The two types of POAs most frequently used are a Financial POA and a Healthcare POA.
What is a Financial Power of Attorney?
A Financial Power of Attorney (POA) allows another person to make financial decisions on your behalf. This includes tasks such as paying for healthcare and other bills, managing assets, hiring representation, and other similar activities. The POA document would outline how much authority this other person may have.
A Financial POA can coexist with your authority or apply only when you are unable to make decisions.
What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?
A Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA) allows another person to make decisions about your healthcare. Having a Healthcare POA is important because your spouse or children are not always able to make these decisions for you without the POA document designating them as your Healthcare POA.
In Missouri, this other person may only make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself. According to Missouri law this means they are unable by reason of any physical or mental condition to receive and evaluate information or to communicate decisions to such an extent that he lacks capacity to meet essential requirements for food clothing, shelter, safety, or other care such that serious physical injury, illness, or disease is likely to occur. This is not always a permanent condition. It may change and that person may no longer be incapacitated. Other states may have different rules.
A Healthcare POA designee may access medical records, direct what care you receive, and determine transfers between facilities.
To assist the Healthcare POA, you may complete an advance directive. This document allows you to specify what medical treatments you want or don’t want. This document guides the Healthcare POA designee in how to make a decision in certain circumstances may provide limitations as to what care you receive.
What happens if I don’t have a designated Power of Attorney?
If you don’t have a Power of Attorney (POA) in place and you become incapacitated, there would be a petition to the court to open a guardianship and/or conservatorship proceeding. A guardianship is a request to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions for you and a conservatorship is a request to appoint someone to make financial decisions. In this case, the court will look at if you need to have someone appointed to make decisions for you and then if so, who that person will be.
This can be a lengthy and expensive process. It can also cause rifts in families if multiple family members are trying to convince the court that they would be the best guardian. So, it’s ideal to avoid it by having your POA(s) in place and documented.
Who should be a Power of Attorney?
The Healthcare and Financial Power of Attorney (POA) can be the same person, but they don’t have to be. There is the likelihood that these two positions will have to work together at times, for example, when paying medical bills. So, if the two POA designees are different people it would be ideal for them to be people who can work together and have the same understanding of how you would like your advance directive carried out.
How do I get a Power of Attorney document in place?
Your attorney can help you obtain and complete these documents.
The Missouri Bar Association does provide a Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA) form that can be downloaded and filled out. Check your state’s bar association to see if similar documents are available.
What should you do with your Power of Attorney documents?
Once you have these documents and have spoken with your Power of Attorney (POA) designees you should keep a copy of the POA documents as should your designated POA(s). If you are having a scheduled hospitalization or moving into a senior living community, it is recommended to take these documents with you. A copy of these documents should also be provided to your healthcare providers as they cannot honor a POA without the documents.