Have you ever wondered who will manage your financial affairs if, due to unforeseen circumstances or illnesses, you’re no longer capable? This is not an unrealistic scenario, and it’s where a financial power of attorney (POA) comes into the picture. A financial POA can serve as a safety net in instances where you become incapacitated, granting your designated agent the power to steer your financial ship and safeguard against potential losses or exploitation. To understand why this legal document could be essential in your life, it may be worth consulting with a financial advisor.
How a Financial Power of Attorney Works
A financial power of attorney is a legal document enabling you (the principal) to delegate financial decision-making rights to a trusted individual (the agent). This agent then becomes responsible for various tasks divided into clear-cut responsibilities such as:
As an example, suppose the principal suffers a sudden illness that leaves them unable to manage their financial matters. The agent, through the POA, can step in to ensure the continuation of crucial financial activities such as paying bills on time, managing investments and handling tax returns, thereby preventing financial loss and ensuring the principal’s interests are protected.
What Rights Can You Give Away in a Power of Attorney?
The rights you can grant through a POA are extensive, including:
Despite its extensive range, it’s crucial to define these rights explicitly in the POA document to prevent misuse. Consulting a financial advisor can help you make an informed decision about the rights to include in a POA.
Pros and Cons of a Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney (POA) can be a valuable tool, but it also comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the pros and cons will help you make an informed decision about whether a financial power of attorney is right for your situation.
The pros of a Financial POA include empowerment for you to choose who will handle your affairs, reiterating the significant importance of having a trusted agent and a professional advisor onboard. Here are some of the most important other benefits that you may not consider:
- Control and flexibility: You have the ability to choose who will make financial decisions on your behalf, and you can customize the scope of the POA to suit your specific needs. This allows you to maintain a degree of control over your financial affairs.
- Planning for incapacity: A financial POA allows you to plan for the possibility of becoming incapacitated due to illness, accident or other circumstances. It ensures that your financial matters are handled by someone you trust when you are unable to do so yourself.
- Avoiding guardianship proceedings: Without a financial POA in place, if you become incapacitated, a court may need to appoint a guardian to make financial decisions on your behalf. This can be a costly and time-consuming process, which a financial POA can help avoid.
- Continuity of financial management: If you are in a business partnership or have significant financial responsibilities, a financial POA can ensure that your financial affairs continue to be managed without interruption in your absence.
- Peace of mind: A financial POA can help provide the peace of mind to know your assets and loved ones are taken care of if anything happens to you.
On the flip side, a Financial POA might carry a risk of exploitation. Here are some of the risks:
- Potential for abuse: Granting someone power of attorney over your finances carries the risk of abuse. Your agent could misuse their authority for personal gain, so it’s crucial to choose a trustworthy and responsible individual.
- Complexity and legal costs: Drafting a financial POA may require legal assistance, which can result in legal fees. Additionally, the process can be somewhat complex and may require notarization, potentially leading to additional expenses.
- Lack of oversight: Once you grant someone financial power of attorney, you may have limited oversight and control over their actions. While you can establish specific rules and limitations in the document, you need to trust your agent to act in your best interests.
- Potential for misunderstanding: In some cases, financial institutions or third parties may be unfamiliar with your agent’s authority or be unwilling to accept the POA, leading to confusion or delays in managing your financial matters.
- Limited protection against family disputes: A financial POA does not prevent family disputes or disagreements over your finances. If your family members do not agree with your choice of agent, conflicts may still arise.
How to Setup a Financial Power of Attorney
Setting up a financial power of attorney (POA) involves legally designating someone to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so yourself. Essentially, you’ll need an executed document that is filed or shared with others that stipulates the agent(s) and specifics behind what will grant them power of attorney. The process may vary depending on your jurisdiction.
Despite multiple complexities inherent to the process of setting up a POA, professional help can guide you through the steps, including choosing an appropriate agent, defining their responsibilities, drafting, witnessing, and notarizing the document, ensuring your interests remain protected.
The decision to set up a financial power of attorney is not a lightweight consideration. It’s essentially entrusting another person with significant power over your finances, highlighting the importance of precise future planning. However, when executed correctly ahead of time, a financial power of attorney can become indispensable when facing unexpected incapacitation.
Tips for Estate Planning
- A lot can go wrong toward the end of your life but a lot of it can be prepared for, at least financially. Protecting your assets and making sure your estate is set up correctly is something an experienced financial advisor can do for you. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- It’s important to make sure you’ve, at a minimum, taken your estate through the proper planning process. Consider this estate planning checklist to help you go through those motions.
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