A power of attorney lets someone else fill in for you, whether the problem is distance or Alzheimer's. You, the "principal," choose an "agent" or "attorney in fact" (aif) to do certain things on your behalf.
Most appointments give your substitute power over health or financial issues, typically in separate documents. Laws in all 50 states require that you be over 18 and understand what you're doing.
But it's more complex than picking a warm body. As estate planning and elder law attorney Andrew Hook of Portsmouth, Virginia puts it, "Durable powers of attorney are powerful instruments. They shouldn't be treated like aspirin."
Whether drafting a health-related
or financial poa, you must:
1) Pick someone to act as your aif. It should be someone you know and trust and who lives in your state, if possible. Trust is crucial, as Rosemary Forrest, who works at the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken, S.C. discovered when she asked her father to sign a poa: "I had to struggle to get him to sign a power which gave me authority to spend money on his care. He finally did sign, but ... his mind was partly gone and I felt like I was conning him," recalled Forrest.
2)Draft the poa, checking state law requirements. Most people use an attorney for this task; others find the best fill-in-the-blanks form.
3)Decide what you want to delegate. Do you want this person to have power over business or personal finances? Are there other agreements (partnership, etc.) to be consistent with?
4)Decide when you want your poa to take effect -- immediately, or when something prevents you from acting on your own.
5)Observe formalities: sign it, witness it, notarize it, and have it recorded in the county courthouse, especially if you own real property.