Why You Need a Power of Attorney Signed Before You Get Sick

November 09, 2010

In small towns, we’re used to taking care of business the old-fashioned way–with a handshake and common sense.  Banks let us cash checks that our neighbor forgot to sign, because everyone knows that the neighbor often forgets and the teller recognizes his handwriting on the rest of the check.  A construction company doesn’t use contracts, because his word is just as good.  The grocery store may even let you “charge” groceries with nothing more than a nod of the head.  The cashier will staple the receipt to a piece of paper with your name on it after you leave and send you a bill at the end of the month.

So it comes as a surprise when a bank won’t let you complete a transaction.  Or a company won’t take you at your word.

It’s even harder when you are no longer able to speak for yourself.  Imagine a person who has become disabled.  While he can still make decisions and have opinions, he can no longer get on the phone and navigate through the customer-service menu for hours while trying to make changes to his account.  If his wife calls, the agent will ask to speak to the account holder.  And what if the account holder can no longer speak?  The agent will refuse to share information with his wife.

A power of attorney is an easy way to plan in advance so that your family can prevent such maddening obstacles to taking care of business.  You can grant the power of attorney to one or more people, designating whether they can act individually or must agree to act on your behalf.  You can revoke the power at any time.  You can specify that the power continues even if you become unable to make decisions for yourself.  And if you’re worried that the person holding the power will take your assets for himself, you can even prohibit self-dealing.

Yes, it’s awful to think about a time when you might no longer be able to take care of your own business.  But I urge you to consider this planning a gift to your family that will ease their administrative burden if they’re ever trying to help you when you can’t help yourself.

Please contact my law office for more Minnesota-based information about how you can protect yourself, your family, and your assets through wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and estate planning.

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