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How do you know if you need a power of attorney?

You may be one of the many people wondering if you need a power of attorney. The easy answer to this question is that everyone should have a power of attorney, no matter their age or health. That may cause you to ask a host of other questions, however, such as why you need one, and what should be in the document. 

What does a power of attorney do?

A power of attorney gives another person (the agent) permission to act on your behalf (the principal). To understand what a power of attorney is and what it does, first you should know that there is more than one type of power of attorney in Texas. Most people use these two:

  • A medical power of attorney appoints an agent to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated and can no longer make your own decisions. The document usually states your wishes for what kind of care you would like to receive in different scenarios. This helps doctors and hospitals plan for your treatment in order to honor those wishes.
  • A durable power of attorney appoints an agent to represent you in a variety of financial matters, and continues to be effective even if you can no longer make decisions on your own. 

Who is the agent?

Your agent should be someone you trust completely. Your agent is working on your behalf and cannot tell you what you should do. As long as you are competent and physically able, you can still make your own decisions and voice your own wishes. Most people draft a power of attorney, however, because they recognize that a time may come when they will no longer be competent to do that and they are relying on this person they trust to make decisions for them. Many people choose a spouse or a child, but the important thing is that you trust them completely.

When should you create a power of attorney?

Most people think of powers of attorney as something you create when you are older and fear you will soon be incapacitated, or you are facing a major medical procedure and want your doctors to know your wishes if something doesn't go as planned. Those are all good reasons to consider a power of attorney, but sadly, many people put these plans off until it is too late. You must be mentally competent to sign any type of power of attorney, so you should do this when you are healthy and understand the difficult legal decisions that go into creating a power of attorney.

Can you change your mind?

You can change your mind about a power of attorney at any time as long as you are still competent. You can revoke the power of attorney by signing a revocation and telling your agent that you have revoked it. You can draft your power of attorney to have a specific end date, if you wish. In some cases, the named agent may not be able to act or may not wish to act as your agent, so you will need to choose someone new. 

Most people don't want to think about needing powers of attorney, but now you know why you should have them. They are an important tool to making sure your medical team and your loved ones know your wishes and can help take care of you when you cannot take care of yourself.

A living will is a document that allows you to express your wishes about your end-of-life care. For example, you can document whether you want to be given food and hydration to be kept comfortable, or whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means.

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  • Richard P. Johnson is Board certified Texas Board of Legal Specialization Estate Planning And Probate
  • Wealth Counsel
  • The College of the State Bar Of Texas Professionalism Through Education
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