Durable powers of attorney can make an emotionally and financially devastating time a little easier, and ensure that you choose who makes your decisions, instead of leaving it to the Washington court system.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is similar to a "springing" general power of attorney. It allows another individual to conduct your affairs for you if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Bank transactions, paying bills, signing documents, purchasing or selling items in your name, and making health decisions are made possible through the authorization of a durable power of attorney.
Medical or Financial
A general durable power of attorney in Washington provides only for financial and related matters. Health-related decision-making power can be granted by specifying in the power of attorney document for your financial affairs. However, as Jensen Law Office explains, "Even if your document does have medical powers, it might not make sense to name your financial attorney in fact to make health care or medical decisions on your behalf." It is possible, and perhaps desirable, to also sign a separate medical power of attorney to designate the individual to make such decisions for you.
Attorney in Fact
The individual named as your representative in a power of attorney is called your attorney in fact. Anyone can serve as your attorney in fact. "Honesty, common sense and dependability should be the most important factors in your decision," according to NOLO, an organization that provides legal information. It might also be wise to designate a second choice in case the first is unable, or unwilling, to serve. Additionally, while you might choose a family member, a nonprofit organization specializing in such service, or a financial planner, for instance, Washington law prohibits the appointment of any of your doctors, your doctor's employees or business associates, or employees of a health care facility, unless such individual is a relative.
Date of Effect
In general, a durable power of attorney goes into effect the moment you sign it. Washington law requires you to specify in the document that it is "durable." Otherwise, it ends when you become incapacitated, instead of going into effect at that time. Also, you can create a "springing" durable power of attorney, which will not come into effect until a doctor certifies that you are incapacitated. The choice is yours.
Washington law RCW 11.94.043 states, "the durable power of attorney ... shall continue in effect until revoked or terminated by the principal, by a court-appointed guardian, or by court order." In other words, as long as you are able to do so, you can cancel the power of attorney. In some instances, a court can also revoke the power of attorney. An example of this is when the attorney in fact is a spouse and a divorce occurs. And while it typically revokes at death, it can "continue beyond your death if anatomical gift, autopsy, or disposition of remains is authorized," according to Legal Help Mate.
It is not necessary to have a lawyer draw up your power of attorney, but it might be desirable to at least consult with an attorney. Many options and details exist with durable power of attorneys, and knowing you are protected will ease your mind if you ever become incapacitated.