By Catherine F. Golden, Partner
Has a loved one ever tried to help you with a banking chore, a utility outage, or just an inquiry about a bill, but was told she could not get information or take any action because the account is not in her name? A power of attorney is the answer. A power of attorney is a writing in which one person gives another person the power to act on his or her behalf. It can be a simple and narrow power, for example, where John Smith signs a document saying, “Dear XYZ Cable Company: I authorize Jane Smith to get information about my account and give you orders.” Or, it can be a broad, general power in which John Smith appoints Jane Smith as his agent to act in connection with all John Smith’s business affairs.
In the above example, once the power of attorney is presented to XYZ Cable Company, the company is then free to deal with Jane regarding John’s account. Such a document is very useful particularly if John is ill, has a disability or is unavailable to manage the account as needed. The company can still deal directly with John, but now also is free to deal with Jane if she calls them.
When a client contacts us about a will or trust, we usually make a general durable power of attorney part of the package. Powers of attorney cover business affairs and can also cover health care matters.
With a “general” power of attorney, Jane can do most things for John that he could do if he were acting for himself. With a “durable” power of attorney, Jane’s power to act continues indefinitely unless it is revoked by John. So by giving Jane his power of attorney, John can make sure things get done for him. Between spouses, or between other trusted persons, the general durable power of attorney for business and the health care power of attorney are essential parts of the estate plan.