Powers of attorney provide a valuable tool in creating a comprehensive estate plan. A power of attorney, at its core, involves you, as the “Principal,” nominating a fiduciary, known as an “Attorney-in-Fact,” to act on your behalf in certain scenarios as specifically outlined in the document. A common misperception is that, even though the Principal is deceased, the Attorney-in-Fact still possesses the authority to handle the Principal’s financial issues including accessing financial accounts. That could not be further from the truth. RCW 11.25.100(1)(a) https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=11.125.100 clearly states that “A power of attorney terminates when the principal dies.” Powers of attorney are tools to assist in your estate planning while you are alive; whereas a will is a tool to manage and distribute your assets once you are deceased.

Powers of attorney can take many forms. They can be limited, such as authorizing the Attorney-in-Fact to handle a particular transaction on behalf of the Principal. To the contrary, a General Durable Power of Attorney is more comprehensive and grants the Attorney-in-Fact wide ranging authority to act on the Principal’s behalf. As such, great care needs to be taken in appointing an Attorney-in-Fact to ensure that the person is both trustworthy and fully competent to perform the assigned duties. A power of attorney can become effective immediately upon the Principal’s signature, or it can become effective when the Principal is incapacitated. In addition to covering financial matters, a separate power of attorney, known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, authorizes the Attorney-in-Fact to make health care decisions for the Principal when the Principal is incapacitated.

Durable powers of attorney are especially important for parents of young children, because they allow a parent to nominate a guardian for a child if the child’s parents become incapacitated. Durable powers of attorney can also appoint a person to make short-term or emergency health care and child care decisions on behalf of the principal’s child if the child does not have a parent with capacity to make these decisions.

Please see our blog posts for more information about powers of attorney:

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?
Recent Changes to Washington’s Power of Attorney Act
Fiduciary Duties Under Washington’s New Uniform Power of Attorney Act
Why Your Doctor Wants You to Have a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions
Who Makes Your Healthcare Choices?

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