Friday, April 18, 2014

Power of Attorney

How do I get a power of attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document in which you give another person (your "agent") the right to handle financial and legal matters for you. The person you name as your agent must be 18 years of age or older and can be a family member or close friend. The person you choose should be someone you trust with your money and other possessions.
  • Giving someone else the power of attorney does not mean you give up your own rights. You can still handle your own financial and legal matters, and you can revoke the power of attorney at any time. The power of attorney ends upon your death.
  • In Massachusetts, the power of attorney may be general or limited. A general power of attorney gives your agent all of the rights that you have in handling your financial matters. A limited power of attorney gives your agent only the rights you list in the document. For example, you may authorize someone to sign a particular legal document for you while you are out of town.
  • A power of attorney does not give your agent the right to make medical decisions for you. You must have a health care proxy for this purpose.
  • A power of attorney can be written to go into effect right away, or at a later date.
  • A regular power of attorney stops being in effect if you become incompetent. If you want the power of attorney to go into effect, or remain in effect, if you become incompetent, you must have a durable power of attorney.
  • Rules about durable powers of attorney can be found in the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 190B, Article V,  Protection of Persons Under Disability and Their Property, Sections 5-501 and 5-502.
Having a durable power of attorney can save your family time and money if you become incompetent. However, a durable power of attorney can be abused. Even though you aren't required to have a lawyer to write a power of attorney document, you should get legal advice to protect yourself.

You can get a power of attorney form from your local ASAP or Legal Services office. Legal Services offers free legal help to seniors age 60 or older.
You can find sample power of attorney forms in A Guide for Elders (Chapter 2: Why Do I Need a Power of Attorney Document?) from the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute.

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