If an accident or illness incapacitates you to the extent that you can't make important decisions for yourself, these decisions may instead be made by the courts, the health-care system or financial-service providers. Their rulings may differ drastically from your own wishes. To protect yourself and your family in any contingency, draft a power of attorney--a legal document that allows the people closest to you to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you can't.
Select someone you trust and who has your best interests in mind to act as your power of attorney. Typical charges include your spouse or partner, sibling, adult child or parent. Keep in mind that this person may have access to your bank account, Social Security checks and investment portfolio.
Understand the range of decisions someone with POA is authorized to make. He or she can buy or sell your real estate, manage your property, conduct your banking transactions, invest your money, make legal claims and conduct litigation, make gifts on your behalf, and attend to tax and retirement matters.
Be clear about the differences between a durable power of attorney (DPOA) and a limited power of attorney (LPOA). A DPOA carries more authority than an LPOA because it goes into effect if you are not capable of making decisions on your own due to illness or long-term absence, and it carries no specific time frame. It is effective from the date of the document's execution. An LPOA carries less authority and is used for specific needs in nonhealth situations, such as trading authority on an investment while you're out of the country.
Appoint an estate or elder-law attorney to take over if you can't identify an appropriate person to act as your power of attorney.
Consult an estate-planning attorney or financial adviser to help you fully understand and execute your power of attorney. He or she can answer questions about the powers you are delegating, provide counsel on whom you should choose as your power of attorney, outline this person's obligations, and ensure that your power of attorney meets legal requirements and is correctly executed.
Contact the Social Security Administration (ssa.gov) with your new power-of-attorney information.