You’ve probably heard you need to have a financial power of attorney in place, but the whole thing seems a little ambiguous…what does this important document (which is an important part of a complete estate plan) actually mean? Let’s cover the basics.
What is a financial power of attorney?
A financial power of attorney (“POA”) is a legal document that designates someone to handle your financial decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so while living, due to incapacitation. (Note that upon death, your financial power of attorney terminates and your will and/or trust kick in to guide decision making in your absence.)
There are two main types of financial power of attorney I offer my clients.
- Immediate power—effective from the moment you sign it, without any medical certification; while immediate, you do not lose control of your affairs. (This is typically what I recommend.)
- Springing power—becomes effective only upon medical certification that you are unable to carry on your legal and financial affairs.
What happens if I don’t have a financial POA?
If you don’t have a financial POA, and you were to become incapacitated, any financial decisions would need to be made by a court-appointed conservator. Under a court’s direction, the conservator would handle your financial matters. It’s a quite expensive and time consuming process, especially compared with the relative simplicity of executing a financial POA. Also, needless to say, most people would elect to trust their important financial decisions to a person they love and trust, over someone the court appoints.
After I die, can my agent continue to operate under my financial POA?
A common misperception is that your agent will be able to use this power after your death. Instead, at your death, any of the agent’s powers will be automatically revoked. The representative appointed through the probate process will carry out your estate plan.
Who should I choose to serve as my “attorney-in-fact?”
The agent (or attorney-in-fact) you choose will be managing your finances, so it is critically important to choose someone trustworthy; someone who will not abuse or exploit this power; someone who will listen to your wishes, goals, and objectives, as included in the document or otherwise communicated; and someone who will look out for your best interests.
You also have the option of designating a successor agent who can take over if the original agent is unable or unwilling to serve. This is highly recommended.
Who should receive a copy of my financial POA?
The person named as agent and any person named as a successor agent should receive a copy. It may also be wise to share a copy with your financial institution(s), such as your bank/credit union, as well as with your financial advisor and/or accountant.
Can I revoke my financial POA?
Yes, you may revoke the financial POA at any time. You can also amend the financial POA (change it, revise it, etc.) at any time.
Are there other estate planning documents I need?
Yes, definitely! There are six “must have” estate planning documents. The financial power of attorney is one of these documents that create a comprehensive estate plan.
Who needs a financial power of attorney?
I’m a staunch believer that every adult Iowan needs an estate plan—including young professionals, newlyweds, the non-wealthy, and especially people with minor children—and, therefore a financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney can even be incredibly important (but often overlooked) for college students.