Power of Attorney

Power of attorney is a term you have probably heard most often in connection with health care decisions. This document can be extremely useful in situations where you are unable to handle your own affairs. Even events like surgery where you are expected to recover or going on a long vacation might require someone to take care of things for a time. Military personnel are encouraged to arrange for this when they are serving overseas.

The word attorney means a person who acts in your place or speaks for you. You are referred to as the principal or grantor. Most people choose their spouse or a close family member or friend. Elderly people often give this authority to their adult children.

The attorney can have as much or as little legal authority over your affairs as you need them to have. The main goal is to allow the appointed person to manage your property on your behalf.

This document goes into effect only when you become unable to handle things for yourself. In medical situations, your competence can be certified by a doctor. If other family members think you are still capable of managing your own affairs, they can challenge the document in court.
Types of Documents

With an ordinary power of attorney, the principal goes on being functional after it is created, just allowing the agent to act on his or her behalf. The durable form is the type that remains in effect after the principal becomes incapacitated. It goes into effect only when you become incapacitated and becomes invalid if you regain competence. If you do not have this document in place, your family members will have to go to court and ask for a guardianship or conservatorship on your behalf.

The general type gives the person you choose the authority to manage all your legal and financial transactions for you. The attorney will be able to make decisions, sign contracts and checks, make bank deposits, and sell and buy property.

A limited document allows the attorney to take only certain actions during a specified period of time. Many people moving to a new home use this to authorize a real estate agent to sell the old home on their behalf.

Medical power of attorney is a durable type that allows the agent to make only health care decisions on your behalf. This is the document you want in place in case you become suddenly and unexpectedly incapacitated. Make your exact wishes explicitly clear. If a doctor is not willing to carry out your wishes, your agents can have you transferred to a hospital that will. The more detail you go into, the easier it will be for the attorney to be certain he or she is doing exactly what you want. Be sure to have an advance health care directive in place as well.

Illinois law requires that you must be 18 years of age or older and in full possession of your mental faculties. The document must be in writing, signed and dated by you, with at least one witness, and notarized. You may set a date or event for it to go into effect.

You may name two or more attorneys in the document. If you have two children, A and B, and you wish them each to be able to act independently on your behalf, the document should state that you want to authorize A or B to be in charge. If you want A and B to make joint decisions and sign things together, make it A and B.

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