A power of attorney is a document a person can use to give a trusted family member or friend the power to make financial transactions and other decisions on his or her behalf. If you’re familiar with the power of attorney, you may be thinking of it in the context of your aging grandparent or parent who can’t drive to the bank on their own. But here are a few uses of the power of attorney that are good for just about everyone.
1. Financial Transactions for Your College Aged Kids
The old “as long as I’m paying the bills” may work with the kids when they’re home on break or calling you on the phone from their college or university about how the car (you paid for) needs to be repaired. But that reasoning doesn't quite work with your son or daughter’s college when you need to request their student file, take out a private student loan in their name, or handle their banking when they are on campus miles and miles away. But if you talk to your student ahead of time about allowing you access and authority to take certain, enumerated actions on his or her behalf, you will save yourself a headache down the road.
2. Give Grandma and Grandpa Access to Funds When You’re Out of Town
Ever go on vacation and leave grandma and grandpa in charge of the kids? If so, you may grant grandma and grandpa a springing or limited power of attorney to take care of any household emergencies that might happen while you’re away. So if your 3 year-old orders hundreds and hundreds of dollars in pay-per-view and its 1 a.m. on your European vacation, grandma and grandpa can take care of the contract terminations while you sleep. Or if grandma and grandpa are babysitting your fur baby who happens to swallow several inanimate objects requiring a trip to the vet, they should be able to consent to pet treatment and set up the payment plan on your behalf.
3. If Your Job Makes You a Frequent Flyer
Along the same lines as the above, if you travel often for work, you might consider a springing power of attorney that allows your sister or your best friend to handle your emergencies while you’re out for work. This protects you from inability to act should a tree fall on your roof requiring someone to immediately contract for the repairs and even file the insurance claim when you’re not able to.
4. Adult Children with Special Needs
If you have a high school junior or senior with an IEP who is nearing the age of 18, you and your high school student may consider a power of attorney to allow you the ability to work with the student’s school. As education laws become stricter, some schools and school districts will not communicate with parents of 18-year-old students about information in the student file that is deemed private or personal. If your 18-year-old is competent to contract and would like your help working with the school as he or she finishes the credit requirements, a power of attorney is likely the most cost-effective way to grant parental access. Similarly, if your adult child has special needs but is able to make most decisions for him or herself, enter into contracts, and live outside of your home in an environment with support, a power of attorney could be the best and least restrictive way for you to support your child in decision making without taking his or her autonomy in the things he or she is more than able to control.
5. Avoiding the Time, Expense and Loss of Rights of a Guardianship Proceeding
Perhaps the most traditional use of a power of attorney is for the aging parent or grandparent who has trouble physically or mentally carrying out financial transactions and other important decisions for him or herself. All family members of aging persons, persons with chronic health conditions, or those who are starting to seem vulnerable or confused should talk to the family member about executing a power of attorney. Creating a power of attorney now can help families avoid the mess and confusion of a formal guardianship proceeding down the road should a family member lose the ability to make decisions for him or herself. Guardianship proceedings can be long, contentious and even expensive. Why not have your loved one decide ahead of time who can best care for his or her affairs when he or she can’t?
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Note to the readers: This post is not intended to provide legal advice specific to your personal situation, nor does any information given in this blog create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Should you have questions about your personal legal situation, please give my office a call.