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Wills -- where do powers of attorney fit into estate planning?

New York families may not be aware of the importance of proper planning before a person becomes unable to handle certain financial and medical aspects of his or her life. Although such circumstances are typically associated with old age, an accident can incapacitate anybody at any time. Along with estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts, two other documents should be included in people's plans to protect their interests in case of such eventualities.

The first one is a power of attorney for health care by which the person drafting the document -- called the principal -- designates a family member or other trusted individual to assume the authority of decision maker for health care issues on behalf of the principal when that person is no longer able to make those decisions. The second is the same type of document that is called a power of attorney for finances. The same or a different person can be chosen to fill the role of decision maker for financial and legal matters on behalf of the principal.

People are advised to establish powers of attorney in a timely manner to avoid the principal's capacity to sign such orders being called into question. It is not uncommon for the decisions made on behalf of an elderly person to be challenged by family members who might claim that Alzheimer's disease or another reason for an unsound mind was present when the power of attorney was signed. If the principal is of sound mind, the power of attorney documents can be modified as circumstances change over the years -- for instance if a designated person is no longer available to fill the role as power of attorney.

Along with the drafting of trusts and wills, experienced New York estate planning attorneys can draft powers of attorney. They can word them in a way that will allow the principal to decide when the agent will assume his or her duties and to what extent. The principal should choose his or her agent wisely, as, unless revised or revoked, the power of attorney stays in effect until he or she dies.

Source: agingcare.com, "What is Durable Power of Attorney?", Marlo Sollitto, Accessed on Sept. 9, 2017

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