Power of Attorney
If you have been named “power of attorney” (POA) by a family member or friend this means that you are an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact” and have the legal authority to make decisions for the “principal,” who is the person who appointed you POA.
Why might you be given Power of Attorney? It may be that the “principal” is unwell or fears imminent incapacitation due to health problems and doesn’t feel that he can make proper or competent decisions thus the need to appoint a trusted person as POA.
The person or principal who is appointing the POA determines exactly how much power the attorney-in-fact has. The POA or attorney-in-fact may only be given authority to deal with one specific issue, which is a specific power of attorney, or can be given the authority to handle most of the principal’s financial and personal matters (a general power of attorney.)
What does it mean?
Once appointed POA, you will be required to make decisions about finances and health care decisions, including the huge responsibility of deciding on giving, withholding or stopping medical treatments, diagnostic procedures and services. In fact, a separate “health care or medical POA” can be created, which specifically gives the attorney-in-fact the power to deal with medical issues and nothing else. The medical POA could be a different person from the specific POA.
A medical power of attorney is appointed via a document that is signed by an individual who is an adult and competent and who specifies a person that he trusts to make health care decisions for him in the event that he can’t make them himself.
As soon as the document is executed and delivered to the agent or the medical POA it goes into effect and remains in effect indefinitely unless a specific termination date is included in the document or the POA status is revoked or the principal becomes competent and capable of making his own medical decisions.
This is all assuming the principal is not capable of making any decisions. The agent or the person designated as medical POA cannot make health care decisions that the principal objects to. This holds true regardless of the principal’s competence. If he says “no,” then it is “no.”
The medical power of attorney is given quite a wide berth; however, he cannot decide that the principal needs to be committed to a mental institution; should undergo psychosurgery or convulsive treatment; receive an abortion or neglect comfort care.
Medical power of attorney can be revoked as easily as orally or in writing telling the principal’s health care provider that the principal intends to revoke the medical POA. Necessary paperwork is then drawn up.
A POA is usually paid for his services. The principal decides on the amount and the method of payment. If the principal doesn’t include this in the document, a court can determine how much the attorney-in-fact is to earn. However, the fee can never be above a fixed percentage of the value of the principal’s property.
A POA is expected to act in good faith and on behalf of the principal, thus the need for the principal to choose a trusted person for this responsibility. A POA is not under the control of the court system which makes it quite easy to misuse power if that is the person’s inclination.
Logistics of appointing POA
A POA is required to keep detailed records, which should be presented to the principal at regular intervals.
It is actually better to not have a POA than to have a POA who isn’t trustworthy. It is critical that you choose the right person for the job, letting him know where the POA document, along with living wills and other vital information, is kept so these documents can be easily accessed.