A durable power of attorney gives a person you appoint the power to make decisions for you if you are too ill to make your wishes known. The "durable" means the instructions in the document will remain in effect when you are incapacitated. There are two basic types of power of attorney—one for health care decisions, and one for financial decisions.

Who Should Get a Durable Power of Attorney

If you are aging, ill, or suspect your health may deteriorate, it's advisable to draw up a durable power of attorney for health care. If you have substantial assets, you should also have a durable financial power of attorney. Married couples often draw up durable power of attorney documents so they can make decisions for each other if one is traveling or ill.

Creating a Durable Power of Attorney

You should not need an attorney to draw up a durable power of attorney for either finances or health care. It's a fairly simple form and examples are readily available on the Web. If you don't understand the terms used in the form, you may want to ask an attorney to explain it to you.

The form will allow you to spell out your wishes in as much detail as you like. For instance, in a durable power of attorney for healthcare, you may list medical procedures you do not want done even if you are gravely ill. In a financial power of attorney, you can specify whether the person you've appointed can pay your bills, manage your retirement accounts, or sell your house.

Perhaps the most important decision in a durable power of attorney is the person you choose to make decisions on your behalf. This person is known as the "proxy" in durable power of attorney. Be sure to choose a proxy you consider very trustworthy, who knows you well and will be certain to carry out your wishes. If you want to change your designated proxy, you will need to create a new document.

If you don't have a durable power of attorney

If you draw up a power of attorney but it is not durable, your instructions for how you want your finances or medical care handled will expire when you become incapacitated—just when you want them to take effect. A power of attorney must be durable to stay in effect when you become ill. Durable or not, all power of attorney documents expire when a person dies.

Additional resources:

US Legal: Power of Attorney Forms by State

Related Legal Guides:

Power of Attorney

Financial Power of Attorney

Medical Power of Attorney

Health Care Proxy