What is a power of attorney and why do you need one? The answer is actually fairly simple. A power of attorney is a document that is created while you are well that allows other people to make decisions for you if there ever comes a time when you are unwell and cannot make your own decisions.
If you become incapacitated, there will be hundreds of decisions to be made. Who will pay the bills, manage your money, take care of your home, and look after your children, spouse or partner? That’s where a financial power of attorney comes in. This document grants important, broad rights to people that you trust to manage all of your assets when you cannot. That’s incredibly important because no one gets the right to access your personal assets automatically, even a spouse.
If you have a joint checking account, your spouse is still going to be able to write a check even if you’re incapacitated, but that’s the extent of it. What if there’s a need to withdraw money from your retirement account to pay the mortgage? Too bad, because without a power of attorney, even your spouse will be out of luck. Need to sell a house that’s no longer suitable? Same answer.
The messy workaround for not having a financial power of attorney is that someone has to go into court and file a guardianship petition just to get the powers that you could have given in a simple document. That’s a very expensive alternative in most states and one that should be totally unnecessary. Worse yet, the person filing the petition might not be the same person that you would have chosen had you signed a financial power of attorney. These problems are easily avoided with a General (Durable) Power of Attorney.
(This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, but only general guidance that may or may not be applicable to your specific situation.)
Orly Reznik is the founding attorney at Reznik Law, PLLC, an Apex based estate planning and business law firm servicing clients through Wake, Chatham and Durham Counties. Services areas include, but are not limited to, Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay Varina, Raleigh, Durham and New Hill. Learn more about her practice at Carywills.com.