Choice is powerful. It is the freedom to make your own decisions. Freedom to choose who you want to assist you in the event of disability or incapacity. Freedom to execute a Power of Attorney.
Lack of choice leaves you powerless. A Guardianship can be imposed when choices have not been made prior to disability or incapacity. The Superior Court and a Court appointed Guardian take your power away. Your power to make choices is gone.
To start the process towards making your own decisions, the first document you should sign is a Power of Attorney.
A “Durable Power of Attorney”1 is a powerful document. By executing this document, you are granting another person the power over you. You are choosing who will make decisions for you when you are no longer able to handle your medical or financial matters due to disability or incapacity. Individuals of all ages need a Power of Attorney since you never know when an accident or disability will occur.
The power can be broad and cover many different areas such as “all medical needs” or “all financial matters” or it can be narrow and cover only “the sale of a home or car” or “making decisions for my minor child”.
The power is usually without limitation, but you can choose to limit the powers you grant to someone else. One way to limit the powers is to limit when the Power of Attorney takes effect, either immediately or upon your disability.
The powers you grant under a Power of Attorney last even if you become incapacitated. This is expressed by the word “durable” in the title and in special wording in the document.
As the person who signs the Power of Attorney, you can choose how much or how little power you want to give away. It is your choice. You have the power to appoint someone.
What if you choose to not execute a Power of Attorney and you become unable to manage your finances or medical care? Another person cannot just step in to make decisions for you, unless they are your spouse or child, and these persons can act only under certain circumstances.
Due to the increased HIPAA rules on medical privacy and the financial regulations, banks and hospitals want some type of document nominating or appointing someone to act in your behalf. These could be a Power of Attorney or a Guardian.
If you have chosen not to execute a Power of Attorney and you become disabled or incapacitated, the State of Washington, through their Superior Courts, will appoint a Guardian over you to manage your financial and medical needs. You may or may not have a choice in the appointment. The costs of a Guardianship are high and the person needing the Guardianship usually pays the costs.
If a Guardianship is ordered for you, you can lose some or all of these powers: the power to vote; marry or divorce; to make or revoke a will; to enter into a contract, to buy, sell, own, mortgage, or lease property; to possess a license to drive; to consent to or refuse medical treatment; to decide who shall provide care and assistance; and to make decisions regarding social aspects of your life. You lose the power to control your life under a Guardianship. You lose your power of choice.
The choice is yours. Power of Attorney or Guardianship? You take charge of your life and execute a Power of Attorney so you can choose your attorney-in-fact and grant them the powers you think they will need. Or you delay, and the State chooses for you. The power is yours to choose.
1 Power of Attorney documents have many different names, Durable Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, General Durable Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Matters, among a few.