By Terrie Gillett | Notary San Rafael | (415) 686-6613
As a mobile notary, I routinely visit hospitals and rehab hospitals helping people complete their Power of Attorney and other estate documents because they have become sick. Or perhaps I should say, they have become very sick. Sadly, it’s common for people to avoid signing these documents until an unfortunate event forces the family to deal with a looming catastrophe. The realization that the family is powerless to handle their mother’s/father’s/significant other’s affairs without proper authorization is frightening, and the last thing anyone wants to have to deal with when their loved one is already very ill.
What Is A Power Of Attorney?
A power of attorney (or “POA”) is written authorization in which you designate someone to act on your behalf in private affairs, in banking, in business and in legal matters should you become incapacitated. The person doing the authorizing is the principal or grantor. The one authorized to act is “the agent” or the attorney-in-fact.
A POA allows your agent to access your assets (banking, property, etc) in order to pay bills, rent/mortgage, make a car payment, handle your medical bills and/or pay your care giver. Your agent can buy groceries or pay the utilities and the like. If you own your own company, your agent can handle business matters like making payroll and paying invoices.
Many assume that a spouse can write checks or has the ability to cash out a stock account to fund an expense. However, spouses cannot access any account if she/he is not on title. Since spouses cannot be on title for any retirement accounts like IRA’s and 401k’s, spouses have no access to these funds unless there is a signed POA.
“What’s the rush? I’m too young! I’ll wait!”
It’s critical to get your affairs in order now, while you are of sound mind, before the unforeseen happens. As with car insurance, your policy must be in place before you get in an accident; the same is true with a POA.
More importantly, if you or your loved one become “mentally incapable” due to illness, pain medication or coma , you cannot legally be notarized. In order for you to execute a valid POA, you must be coherent and you must understand what you are signing. Without capacity, the only way for another party to act on your behalf is to have a court impose a conservatorship.
Some medical situations come on quickly. I helped a robust young attorney who felt fine one morning, had a vicious headache by the end of the day and was hospitalized that night with blood leaking on his brain. The next morning, he was partially paralyzed. As a notary, I can adamantly state that NO ONE wants to sign these docs when they are sick or in a hospital bed.
A woman with 3 young children had a sudden onset of a blood disorder. On top of her worry about her condition along with her profound concern for the care of her children, she had the added duress of estate planning while very ill. Under these conditions, we don’t usually have clarity to make the best decisions.
Anyone facing surgery should complete a POA beforehand. A client went in for surgery, and from complications, had to be put in an artificial coma for 5 weeks. With his POA completed, his spouse was able to manage all financial decisions during this stressful time.
Typically, your POA should be kept in a safe or safe deposit box, and a copy should be given to your agent and to your attorney.
As a mobile notary serving families in crisis mode at the hospital, I urge everyone, no matter your age, to complete a POA now.
NOTE: I am not an attorney licensed to practice law, and I am not offering legal advice or legal service in this article. Please check with your attorney, with a paralegal or legal document assistant to get the help you need and to get your affairs in order.
Notary San Rafael
www.notarysanrafael.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | (415) 686-6613
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