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What “power” does a power of attorney have?

When planning for your later years of life, it’s important to designate a power of attorney (POA). A POA is a person who acts on your behalf and makes decisions according to your wishes, in the event that illness or tragedy prevents you from being able to make those decisions on your own.

For some, the prospect of relinquishing control over their life decisions to another person can be somewhat alarming. It’s important, therefore, to understand the full scope of control you maintain when you make such a designation.

You choose what a POA can and can’t do.

You decide the full breadth of power you wish to give to your POA, and those responsibilities are specified in the POA form. A POA cannot do anything you haven’t explicitly given them permission to do.

For instance, you may designate a POA to handle your finances—e.g., file your tax returns, apply for public benefits on your behalf or pay your bills—but this does not give your POA the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. Alternatively, you may give your POA authority over your financial and medical matters, but you may list out certain exemptions—e.g., you may indicate that the POA is not permitted to make end-of-life decisions for you.

In addition, it’s worth noting that you are not limited to one POA. You can assign one person to be your POA for financial matters and another to be responsible for your medical issues, for example.

Above all, it’s worth understanding that your POA has a fiduciary responsibility to act in your best interest. Designating a POA can be an excellent way of ensuring that your affairs are handled as you desire.

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