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Five Things You Need to Know About a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is an essential component of any estate plan, even if you are in perfect health. This is because a serious illness or injury can happen at any time, leaving you unable to handle your own personal affairs and placing your well-being in another’s hands. Here are five important things you should know about putting a power of attorney in your estate plan:

  • A power of attorney grants others the ability to make decisions for you
    • Broadly speaking, it is a document that grants someone else the ability to make legal or financial decisions on your behalf. This includes things like paying your bills, managing your finances, or even representing you in court if necessary. In the context of elder law, this means you grant it to someone who will take care of your personal affairs when you cannot do so yourself.
  • A power of attorney lets you choose who will care for you
    • Often, though not always, it will be granted to a family member or a close friend who you trust to make such decisions for you. This will allow you to take charge of your care by deciding who will be in charge of your affairs. That way, you know your affairs will be handled by someone you trust.
  • Your power of attorney can take effect when you become incapacitated
    • There are two types of power of attorney in New Jersey. One type is known as “durable,” which takes effect immediately.  The other type is known as “springing,” which only takes effect once certain conditions are met, such as one or more doctors certifying that you are no longer competent to make important legal or financial decisions on your own. You can also determine in a springing power of attorney what criteria will be used to determine whether you are incapacitated or not.
  • You can shape your power of attorney as you see fit
    • Although it sounds like a power of attorney is monolithic, there are a number of ways you can customize it to your needs. For example, a power of attorney can be temporary for certain emergencies. New Jersey law requires that if you want your attorney-in-fact to make gifts to anyone using your assets, the power of attorney must specifically say that.  If you do not want your attorney-in-fact to have gift-giving authority, you can simply decline to include that in the document. Shaping your estate plan to fit your needs is essential to ensuring you and your family will be taken care of according to your wishes.
  • WIthout a power of attorney, you may be in trouble
    • If you lack a power of attorney and a situation arises where you become hospitalized or incapacitated, it may come down to a court deciding who becomes in charge of your affairs and has authority to make legal and financial decisions for you. This can potentially mean someone you do not trust or like may be placed in charge of your affairs, or you may be placed in the care of a complete stranger, such as a private attorney or the New Jersey agency known as the Office of Public Guardian. To avoid this, you should begin estate planning as soon as possible.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Hunziker, Champion, Romer & Miller understand that the aging population has specific and diverse needs. The firm helps seniors and their families by handling all aspects of elder law including guardianships, end of life planning, asset preservation, Medicaid planning, and trusts and estates issues. If you need to consult on elder law issues, call The Law Offices of Hunziker, Champion, Romer & Miller at (973) 256-0456 or fill out our contact form for a consultation.

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