Jennifer A. O’Neill, owner of O’Neill Elder Law, LLC, in Hudson, covered the bases about powers of attorney (POA) and what we need to think in our personal situations, as issues vary over time. PoAs are not limited to elder law. Jenny explained that PoAs allow you to share your legal authority with someone you trust in two distinct areas: health care and financial. She used the analogy of providing an extra set of car keys. It’s still your car, but someone else can get behind the wheel if need be.
The requirement for granting PoA is that the agent must be a competent adult. A banker can fill that role, at which point Jenny pointed to Scott – repeatedly!. The person granting PoA, called the “principal” in Wisconsin, can be in decline; he or she doesn’t have to be at peak. If the situation warrants and PoA’s are not in place, the alternative – guardianship -- is much more intrusive.
The person granted PoA for finance must be trustworthy and possess common sense to act as agent. They must be organized and good with paperwork. In Wisconsin, we can have co-agents who can act together or separately.
One important fact that many of us did not know is that PoA of the agent ends when the principal dies.
Agent for health care is a completely different job. It is vital that the agent must understand principal’s medical care philosophy, and they must be able to make tough decision. You can also have successor agents. The responsibility is different from financial PoA, in that medical PoA only goes into effect upon incapacity of the principal.
Durable PoA means that agent authority continues even when principal become incapacitated. “Spring” power of attorney means that it only works when principal becomes incapacitated.
Jenny described advanced directives as living will documents arose when medical science found ways to keep us alive artificially. She also discussed the consequences that often occur when someone acts too late or the agents aren’t able. In that case the principal must be determined to be incompetent, which requires a judge.
Guardianship is the fallback when a PoA is not in force. Guardianship issues can be time-consuming, expensive, and stressful for those involved. For snowbirds, Jenny noted that the health care PoA should have same agent if PoAs are from different states.
Jennifer A. O’Neill, owner of O’Neill Elder Law, LLC, in Hudson, Wisconsin is Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation as accredited by the American Bar Association. Her practice focuses on legal matters pertaining to aging, including estate planning, trust administration and probate. Jennifer is a graduate of William Mitchell College of Law (J.D. cum laude, 1994). She serves on a variety of boards and committees in Wisconsin, and she is licensed to practice law in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.