Powers of Attorney are legally binding documents that designate and appoint a person (referred to as an “attorney-in-fact") to act on behalf of the individual planning his or her estate (referred to as the “principal"). These documents may give instructions on everything from religious requests to comfort care; payment of bills to access to safe deposit boxes (referred to as “directives").
Powers of Attorney come in two basic forms. A Power of Attorney for Health Care nominates an attorney-in-fact (referred to as a “Patient Advocate" in Michigan and an “Agent" in Illinois), to make health care decisions for the principal. An attorney-in-fact under a Power of Attorney for Health Care must accept his or her role as such after reviewing the principal’s directives. This acceptance assures the willingness of an attorney-in-fact to act on behalf of the principal, and pursuant to his or her wishes, prior to the attorney-in-fact being required to do so. The ability of the attorney-in-fact to act under a Power of Attorney for Health Care commences upon disability or incapacity of the principal. Generally speaking, a principal is deemed disabled or incapacitated if he or she is incapable of making informed decisions regarding his or her health care.
A Power of Attorney for Property appoints an attorney-in-fact (referred to as an “Agent" in both Illinois and Michigan), to direct the principal’s affairs concerning property and finances. Unlike a Power of Attorney for Health Care, an attorney-in-fact under a Power of Attorney for Property can be given the ability to act for the principal even if the principal is not disabled or incapacitated. Although not required, an attorney-in-fact should be asked to accept their role under a Power of Attorney for Property to ensure their willingness to act as directed.
Powers of Attorney do not come in any one standard form, thus are an excellent way for each of us to assure our values and wishes are honored when we are unable to communicate the same. These instruments prevent the need for a guardianship imposed through the probate court, which is a process that is time-consuming, costly and completely devoid of a principal’s appointments, values and wishes.
In sum, Powers of Attorney allow a seamless transition from principals caring for themselves, to principals receiving care.