Power of Attorney in Seattle, Washington

Posted on April 3, 2024.

A POA (or Power of Attorney) gives another person the authority to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf. But don’t let the name “power of attorney” deceive you. The person you appoint to make your medical and financial decisions (known as your “agent”) doesn’t have to be an attorney. Anyone over the age of 18 can be your agent and make decisions on your behalf through a POA.

There are many situations where a POA may be useful. Here are a few:

  • Estate Planning POA. If you or someone you love is getting older, your elder lawyer may recommend that you have a POA in place to ensure that you have appointed someone to manage your financial situation and medical decision-making should you become unable to do so yourself. We’ll explore the different types of POAs you can put in place in Seattle, Washington if you’re looking for a POA for estate planning purposes.
  • POA for Specific, Limited Purposes. If you are purchasing property in another state or are selling property in another state and cannot be physically present to sign the closing documents, sometimes a POA is drafted to give another person the power to sign documents and complete the closing process. The agent assigned could be a lawyer or real estate agent or be another trusted individual. If you need to sell property in another state (because you are going through a divorce, for example), you may also choose to assign a POA to your real estate agent or other trusted individual to manage the closing and sale.
  • You’re Moving. If you’re in the military or have work that requires you to live in another state or country, you may appoint a POA to help handle crucial financial matters while you are away. If you plan to rent out your home, a POA can ensure that rent gets paid and that your mortgages, other bills, and taxes get paid while you are away.
  • You Have a Risky Job. If you have a high-risk job, like working for the military or if you work in the police force, and want to make sure your financial affairs are handled properly and by someone you trust should you become sick, injured, or incapacitated, a POA could protect you in the event you were to get injured on the job or while on the line of duty. If you were to become seriously injured without a POA in place, your family would have to go to court to manage your affairs. This could potentially make an already difficult situation even more challenging.

These are just some situations where a POA may be useful. It is never too early to begin estate planning or to begin planning for your family’s financial security, especially if your line of work is risky. The power of attorney lawyers in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can help you navigate a wide range of situations.

In this article, we’ll explore different aspects of POAs. Here are some topics we’ll cover:

  • Types of POAs
  • What Happens if You Don’t Have a POA
  • How to Create a POA
  • Risks of a POA

Types of POAs

There are several types of POAs that you can create in Seattle, Washington. Here are a few of the main types:

  • Durable POA
  • Springing POA
  • Medical POA or Advance Health Care Directive
  • Limited POA
  • POAs for Estate Planning

POAs can be limited or unlimited on time and scope. Let’s explore each of these in depth.

Let’s explore the ways POAs can be constrained by time.

A durable POA comes into effect when you execute the document, and it will stay in effect until you die unless you take legal steps to cancel the durable POA. Because a durable POA would come into effect before you became incapacitated, you would need to make clear in the document that you intend to give your agent authority over financial, medical, and other decisions should you become incapacitated as well.

A non-durable POA grants your agent the ability to make decisions for a limited time. For example, if you are in the military and will be deployed for a year, you may create a non-durable POA for a year to handle your financial affairs while you are away.

A springing POA only comes into effect if you should become incapacitated, or too sick to make medical or financial decisions on your own behalf. A springing POA is often used for estate planning purposes or for people who work high risk jobs. Hiring a POA lawyer in Seattle, Washington to help you craft a springing POA is very important because it is essential that you clearly define the springing POAs “triggering event or events” For example, would you want the POA to become activated if there is a chance you would recover from an injury, or do you want someone to take over your financial matters in any situation where you are not conscious or unable to take financial action?

POAs can also be limited or unlimited in scope.

A general POA gives your agent the ability to make all legal and financial decisions on your behalf while the POA is in effect.

A Medical POA or Advance Health Care Directive is also used for estate planning purposes. A medical POA or advance health care directive is a springing POA that comes into effect when a person is unable to make medical decisions on their own behalf. At this point, the POA comes into effect and gives an agent (usually a family member, spouse, or trusted friend) the right to make medical decisions for you. Sometimes the POA may specifically include your specific wishes about how you want your medical care handled should you become unconscious or unable to make decisions on your own behalf.

A financial POA gives your agent only the ability to make decisions regarding your finances. Sometimes individuals want family making medical decisions but would prefer that their accountant or financial advisor handle their financial matters.

A limited POA is a power of attorney that is only in effect for a short period of time or for a specific purpose. If you will be living outside the country and want someone you trust to handle your financial affairs while you are away, you may create a limited POA for this purpose. If you are buying or selling property in another state and want to assign your attorney or real estate agent the right to handle the closing, a limited POA can grant a trusted individual these powers.

POAs for Estate Planning often involve the use of medical POAs or advance health care directives and springing power of attorneys for financial and other legal matters. When people begin estate planning, they often think about writing a will or establishing a trust and think it ends there. Yet, estate planning and end of life planning involves so much more. A will won’t offer guidance for how your estate or health care decisions should be handled should you become too incapacitated or sick to make medical decisions on your behalf. This is where a POA comes in.

The POA attorneys in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can take the time to learn more about your unique situation and guide you towards the POA structure and estate planning structure that works best for you. As family lawyers we also see many situations where limited POAs are useful and important. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your POA.

What Happens if You Don’t Have a POA?

We don’t like to think about the unthinkable: a car accident happens, you go to work and get seriously injured on the job, or your illness takes a turn for the worse and you become so sick you are no longer able to communicate to family or friends about your wishes. If you end up incapacitated in the hospital, have you considered how your mortgage would be paid, how rent would be collected, or how your taxes would be handled? If you have a POA in place, you’ll have the peace of mind that someone you trust is already there with clear instructions about how to handle your medical and financial affairs.

If you don’t have a POA in place, however, the courts would get involved. Or your family would have to petition for emergency guardianship. A probate judge might appoint someone known as a conservator to handle your affairs. Once the courts get involved, the judge can assign any conservator to your case that he or she sees fit. If multiple people close to you want to be conservator, this can create a contentious situation for your family, especially while you are sick in a hospital bed. Navigating the courts while a loved one is sick can be incredibly stressful.

This is why power of attorneys are a key part of any comprehensive estate planning process. The POA attorneys in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law are here to help you navigate the POA process, so that your family doesn’t have to do so later.

How to Create a POA

While the specific steps to create your POA will depend on the type of POA you’ll create, here are some things that need to be considered in all POAs.

  1. Choose an Agent. Selecting the person who will be responsible for handling your affairs under the POA is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when creating your power of attorney. This is the person who may be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf and may be someone who may have to handle your finances if you are unable to do so. Sometimes people choose a trusted family member; others might choose a close friend. In other cases, individuals are concerned that choosing a family member could cause disputes and they choose to hire an attorney or professional to serve as their agent. For example, an attorney or accountant could serve as your POA should you need and want a neutral professional to handle your financial affairs. If your POA is designed for a specific purpose (for example, to sell or buy property), you might choose an agent who has expertise in this area. It’s important to speak to your agent before you finalize your POA to make sure they understand their role, your expectations, and to make sure that they are willing and able to handle the job. For example, you may have a family member in mind, but if your family member doesn’t want the responsibility, it might be wise to choose another family member, a friend, or a trusted professional to be your agent.
  2. Choose the Best POA for Your Needs. Will you need a durable POA, a springing POA, or an advanced medical directive? Do you need someone to handle your affairs immediately, or do you just need someone who can handle your affairs should you become sick or incapacitated? Do you want your agent to have authority over all your affairs, or do you just want your agent to handle medical decisions? Do you want to give a family member the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf but appoint your accountant to handle your financial affairs? You can create different POAs to ensure that the right person is appointed to handle each job. A POA lawyer in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can take the time to understand your circumstances and help you select a POA that’s right for you.
  3. Drafting and Executing the POA. While there are template POAs available online and relatively inexpensive services that will use questionnaires and templates to write a POA for you, when it comes to properly drafting and executing a POA, nothing can replace hiring a POA lawyer in Seattle, Washington. Small errors or any lack of clarity in a POA could potentially cause issues, especially if your POA is a springing POA or involves potentially complex medical or financial situations. Washington requires two witnesses present to properly execute a POA. A POA attorney in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law can draft your POA and ensure that it is properly executed.

Risks of POA

A POA can come with certain risks. This is why it is often wise to hire a POA lawyer in Seattle, Washington to anticipate issues that could arise and write the POA in a way that best protects you.

The person you choose to act as your agent can have a great deal of power over your medical, financial, and legal life. By specifying how you would like your medical or financial affairs to be handled when you draft your POA, you can reduce some of the risk. For example, if you want a do not resuscitate order in place, you can specify this. If you don’t want any property bought or sold while you are sick or incapacitated, you can make this clear. You can also clarify how your money should be used (for example, you can specify how bills and taxes should be paid and from what sources).

The good news is that your agent has a fiduciary duty to you. This means that your agent must always handle your affairs in your best interests. It is illegal for an agent to take money or property from you and put it in their account or sell property for their benefit. So, even though you are granting your agent immense decision-making powers, the law has mechanisms that protect your property and interests from abuse. While an agent could theoretically make gifts or change the names of beneficiaries on insurance policies or retirement plans, you can prevent some of these actions by having a solid POA in place that clearly specifies what actions can and cannot be taken. Talking to family about your wishes and having a clear Last Will and Testament can also help, which is why many families will create POAs during the estate planning process.

Next Steps

End of life and estate planning can be complicated and stressful, but you don’t have to navigate the process alone. Even if you plan to create a POA because you will be leaving the country or need to make a purchase, it is important to make sure that the POA is limited in scope, specific, and that you have chosen a trustworthy agent. The POA attorneys in Seattle, Washington at Truce Law help families navigate a wide range of legal challenges. Whether you are ready to begin estate planning, or need to sell property in another state because you are going through a divorce, the POA attorneys at Truce Law in Seattle, Washington are here to help.

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