Florida Estate Planning Lawyers Explain the Basics of Power of Attorney

durable power of attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows you to authorize someone else to act on your behalf in medical or financial matters. There are two main types of POAs, financial and medical, and both can be an important part of planning for the unexpected.

Understanding a Jacksonville Power of Attorney

Most people use a POA to designate an attorney-in-fact who can act on their behalf as their agent if they become incapacitated and unable to make medical or financial decisions. Here’s what you need to know about these important documents.

Different Kinds of POAs Meet Different Needs

The different kinds of POAs give different levels of control to a designated attorney-in-fact or agent. The broadest type of POA is a general or durable POA. This grants broad powers to a person or entity to act on your behalf. A durable POA could authorize someone else to handle your business affairs and transactions, buy life insurance on your behalf, settle legal claims against you, make gifts for you, make your investment decisions, or even hire others to work for you.

If you think you will be physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to take care of your own affairs on every level, a durable POA might be the best choice for you. It’s also a good choice if you’re going out of the country for any period of time, but have business affairs or other matters to attend to while you’re gone.

A special or limited POA, on the other hand, has a much narrower focus. In a limited POA, you can authorize an agent to act on your behalf in a specific matter, for a specific transaction, or for a limited period of time. A vehicle power of attorney, for example, authorizes someone else to sell a vehicle on your behalf. This kind of POA might be useful if you can’t handle specific matters yourself for any reason, including other commitments or prohibitive distance.

A health care POA, also called a designation of health care surrogate in Florida, authorizes an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unconscious or otherwise unable to do so. According to your jurisdiction, you may or may not be able to include your own wishes in the health care POA. However, a living will or advanced directive could help you ensure that your wishes will be met, even if you’re not able to state them yourself at the time.

Putting a POA into Effect

You must be mentally competent when you sign a POA in order for it to be valid. You have a few options for putting your POA into effect, depending on whether you want it to go into effect right away, or whether you want it to go into effect when you become incapacitated.

For example, if you’re creating a POA because you’re leaving the country, or you’re drafting a limited POA to authorize someone to deal with a specific matter like selling a piece of property or managing your investments, you may want the POA to go into effect right away. In this case, you must sign and notarize the POA and obtain certified copies to give to your banks and other organizations with which you do business, with some exceptions.

Your POA goes into effect as soon as you give the document to your assigned agent and distribute copies. Banks and other institutions won’t honor a POA unless they have copies on file.

If you want your health care POA to go into effect when you become medically incapacitated or mentally incompetent, you can specify in the document that it will go into effect when you become incompetent or incapacitated. Currently Florida law does not allow you to limit your durable or limited financial POA based on incapacity, although in the past it did. Laws like this can change, which is one reason it is important to consult a knowledgeable Jacksonville estate planning attorney.

Choosing an Agent

Choosing the right agent or attorney-in-fact is perhaps the most important part of creating a POA. Obviously, your agent needs to be someone you can trust to act in your best interests, and according to your wishes. Most people choose their spouse, a trusted friend, family member, or even an attorney.

Your chosen agent should keep records of any transactions he or she undertakes on your behalf, and should share those records with either yourself, or a third party who can hold the agent accountable if you’re not in a position to do so yourself. Legally, an agent can be held accountable only for intentional abuse of his or her authority to act on your behalf; if your agent does something wrong unknowingly, he or she can’t be punished. Most agents aren’t paid, but if you want your agent to be compensated, you should specify this in your POA.

Revoking a POA in Florida

POAs don’t have to be permanent. You can revoke a POA at any time. All you need to do is notify your attorney-in-fact in writing, and get back any copies you have distributed to your banks or other organizations with which you do business. You will want to notify your financial institutions, and In some circumstances you will want to notify your County Clerk’s office that you have revoked your POA.

No matter how old you are or what your personal medical or economic situation is, having a POA can be very important and provide peace of mind. Creating a POA ensures that your business, finances, and health care will be handled in a way that serves your interests, even if you’re not a position to take care of it yourself.

Contact the Attorneys of Beller & Bustamante, P.L., Today

Understanding the details of a power of attorney can be complicated, especially on your own. If you or a loved one has questions or concerns about any part of creating, maintaining, or enforcing a POA, make sure you have qualified estate planning attorneys on your side.

The estate planning lawyers at Beller & Bustamante, P.L., have the knowledge and experience you need on your side to navigate estate planning, probate, and many other types of matters. To schedule a consultation, call our POA lawyers today at 904-288-4414, or use our online contact form to set up an appointment.