Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Courtyard Marriott / Monroeville
3962 Wm Penn Highway
Monroeville, PA 15146
Between Sheetz and Eat ‘n Park
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Holiday Inn Express
6552 Route 22
Delmont, PA 15626
Behind Lamplighter Restaurant on Rt. 22
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
TownePlace Suites / Pittsburgh
2785 Freeport Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
Just off of Exit 48 of PA Turnpike
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
The Estate Planning Centers
3824 Northern Pike, Suite 801B
One Monroeville Center
Monroeville, PA 15146
Just west of Red Lobster on Rt. 22
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Holiday Inn Express
6552 Route 22
Delmont, PA 15626
Behind Lamplighter Restaurant

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Why do I need a Power Of Attorney?

Each day of your life, you handle a number of different types of transactions for yourself. You go to the bank, pay bills, deal with insurance companies and financial institutions, communicate with government agencies, manage investments, pay taxes, and more. What happens if an accident or illness leaves you in a condition where you cannot handle these day-to-day affairs? Unless you have taken the time to designate an agent to act on your behalf through a durable Power Of Attorney, you risk not only your own personal and economic well-being, but also that of those around you who depend upon you.

Just last week I had to provide emergency help to an older couple because the husband was very ill in a hospital facility, and the stupid cable company wouldn’t talk to anyone in the family about the cable/internet bill.  They hadn’t planned ahead. Such a minor event is just one of the thousands of actions we all take for ourselves each year, and which someone needs to be authorized to handle for us and the family when we are unable to act.

Take a typical married couple with two children. If the husband has a bad car accident and is unconscious for an extended period, imagine just a few of the problems created for the family:

  • The wife has no access to bank accounts in his name;
  • If the house needs remortgaged to pay expenses or take advantage of better rates, the wife doesn't have authority to handle that;
  • If the car breaks down and needs to be replaced, the wife doesn't have the ability to sell it if the car is in husband's name, or even jointly held;
  • A joint tax return cannot be filed because the wife does not legally have authority to sign the husband's name;
  • Insurance beneficiaries for the husband can't be updated if necessary;
  • If elections need to be updated on a retirement account, the plan is frozen;
  • If investments in husband's name need to be bought or sold, no one has that power;
  • If someone owes the husband money, the debtor is not going to pay the family without a signed release, but no one has authority to sign for the husband;
  • Who will sign his application for the government benefits which might be available?
  • If someone else was injured in the accident and the husband is sued, who has authority to defend him?
  • If the husband has business interests, who has the authority to continue to run them?


These are just a few of the common day-to-day examples.

One basic solution to avoid this is situation is to have at least a Durable Power Of Attorney in place. A Power Of Attorney permits you to name somebody, called your Agent, who has the authority to sign your name and act on your behalf. A “ durable" Power Of Attorney continues to be effective when you are incapacitated (suffering a physical or mental condition which interferes with your ability to manage your affairs), and is most commonly used. Your Power Of Attorney may give your Agent immediate authority, giving them the authority to act for you right now, or it may be a “springing" Power Of Attorney, which only gives your designated Agent the power to manage your affairs if and when you are unable to do so. In many families, we use a hybrid Power Of Attorney, giving the spouse immediate Power Of Attorney as a convenience to deal with situations where the other spouse is away on business or simply unavailable, with designated backup, or successor, Agents who might serve if neither spouse is available and actually legally incapacitated and truly need the help.

What happens if you haven't signed a Power Of Attorney and you are unable to manage your financial affairs? Now your family has to go through a formal court process to get a financial Guardian or Conservator appointed. Invoking this process causes confusion and delay in a family which is already struggling with an unforeseen health crisis. You are adding aggravation and worry to your loved ones as they try to figure out what to do to fix the problem, and try to find an attorney to help them. You have saddled them with the expense of hiring an attorney, initiating a formal court process, going through the court hearings to establish the need for a Guardian or Conservator, and hopefully getting one appointed. The Guardian from that point forward is entitled to be paid, and it is up to the court to decide who the Guardian is going to be. Many judges don't want to name a spouse or family member, and instead prefer to appoint an independent third-party who knows nothing about your life and personal situation. Once a Guardian is appointed, that person will continue to report to the court, filing reports and accountings of all of the actions taken on your behalf. This chaos can be avoided through the simple execution of a good Power Of Attorney.

You can amend or revoke your Power Of Attorney at any time. The document should be periodically reviewed to make certain that you have identified individuals you would want to take care of your affairs under difficult circumstances, and to make sure a proper range of powers is given to them.

For these reasons, execution of a strong Power of Attorney is one of the most basic elements of any estate plan.  Nevertheless, it may not be the end of the planning journey. As I noted in a recent article, Power of Attorney is Losing Power, there are times that an institution may not honor the best of Power of Attorney documents. In many families, the use of an estate planning tool called a Revocable Living Trust assures strong management powers on your behalf when and if you are unable to act.  Often, we coordinate both of these tools in order to make sure that you and your family can always be protected.

The time to act is now, while you are still strong and clear minded, not after the crisis has already happened in your family. By then, it is often too late.

In a perfect world, you would never need to use the Power Of Attorney, because we all would stay young and healthy and alert forever. In the real world, however, it is an essential planning tool to provide for security for ourselves and our families.

Don’t let your family get trapped in this mess.  If you haven’t taken the time to have a discussion with an attorney who focuses their practice on helping families to design, construct and implement a contemporary estate plan for today, tomorrow, and the years ahead, don’t wait any longer. As always, our initial consultations are free and provide an easy way to determine what strategies might work best for your family.  No one plans to fail, but far too many fail to plan.