In times of emergency or uncertainty, it’s important to know that you can take care of and protect your family members. Whether it is a spouse caring for their wife or husband, or an adult child taking care of their parent, these families should have the appropriate medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney documents in place.
The current health crisis has many people thinking about the safety of their loved ones. What should you do if a family member gets sick or somehow becomes incapacitated? What sort of legal documents do you need to take care of them? Today, in Siedentopf Law’s latest blog, we’re talking about a medical power of attorney and a financial power of attorney. These are two key estate planning documents you should have in place so that you can legally care for a family member or loved one.
A medical power of attorney, sometimes referred to as a health care proxy or health care agent, is a person authorized to make medical decisions on behalf of another individual – typically, because that individual is either incapacitated or too sick to make their own medical decisions. Under Georgia law, a person names their medical power of attorney as part of their Advance Directive for Health Care, a legal document that memorializes a person’s wishes concerning their medical treatment and end-of-life care.
Under Georgia law, a person’s spouse or their children do have some automatic decision-making authority. So, for example, if your spouse or parent were in the hospital and not able to make their own decisions, you would be able to consent to treatment on their behalf. However, not having a clearly designated decision-maker can cause delays, and sometimes problems arise if family members disagree about treatment choices. To avoid issues, the loved one should name their spouse or child as medical power of attorney in their Advance Directive, and then make sure their doctors and their power of attorney have a copy of that paperwork.
A financial power of attorney, also known as an agent, is someone authorized to act on another person’s behalf in financial, real estate, or legal matters. So, for example, a financial power of attorney can go to the person’s bank, check their P.O. Box, file tax documents, or assist with other business operations.
Spouses and children should be aware that under Georgia law, a financial power of attorney is not automatic. It is common for people to name their spouse or child as power of attorney, but they need to have the appropriate paperwork in place for that authority to be legal. So, a spouse or child cannot go to their loved one’s bank, access financial or tax records, or help with real estate transactions unless there is a financial power of attorney document in place that authorizes them to do so.
The person drafting the power of attorney documents can choose when his or her power of attorney goes into effect. For example, it could be immediately, under specific circumstances, in an emergency (ex: the person is sick or injured), or it could go into effect at a specific date in the future. Naming a financial power of attorney doesn’t mean that a person is giving up their financial or legal rights; it just authorizes another person to help make certain decisions or perform certain tasks.
If someone becomes seriously ill or incapacitated and they do not have a power of attorney in place, the court may appoint a conservator or a guardian to help handle any financial, real estate, or legal matters. That appointed conservator or guardian may not necessarily be a family member. When a guardian or conservator is appointed, many of the ward’s legal rights are taken away, so it is important to try and avoid this situation.
Have more questions about essential documents? Contact estate planning and probate attorney Sarah Siedentopf
In times of emergency or uncertainty, it’s important to know that you can take care of and protect your family members. Whether it is a spouse caring for their wife or husband, or an adult child taking care of their parent, these families should have the appropriate medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney documents in place. And, if you already have these estate planning documents, be sure that they are updated and reflect your current wishes.
If you have additional questions about a medical or financial power of attorney, or would like to schedule an estate planning consultation, please contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via our website.
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