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The Importance of a Durable General Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Power of Attorney

Many people put off executing powers of attorney. The consequence of doing so means that if you are unable to handle your finances and/or health care decisions because you become incapacitated for any reason (for example, by an accident, a stroke or a disease) and you haven’t executed a durable general power of attorney (DGPOA) and/or a health care power of attorney (HCPOA) with HIPAA language, you cede control to the court and the guardian the court appoints. This guardian may not be the person you would have chosen. And the guardianship proceeding may put your loved ones through additional unnecessary and costly distress at a time already heightened by emotion. If you or a family member need assistance establishing a Durable General Power of Attorney or Health Care Power of Attorney, you should consult with an experienced Delaware County, Chester County or Montgomery County estate planning lawyer. At Herr Potts and Potts, our lawyers are dedicated to providing with you the legal representation you deserve. Our lawyers are here to explain how to give a power of attorney in Pennsylvania.

Here are four examples that highlight the importance of naming powers of attorney (all names have been changed):

  • Susan was 53 years old and unmarried, deeply religious and a believer in holistic healthcare. She had no children and no living parents, but she had two long-estranged siblings. She had been to her lawyer but put off executing both a DGPOA and a HCPOA (although she did execute her Will). She suddenly became ill with a brain tumor necessitating emergency surgery. Unfortunately, following surgery, she was unable to intelligibly communicate or fully comprehend the decisions she had to make. Her siblings were left to try to figure out what their sister wanted, although they didn’t really know her well anymore. Following an emergency guardianship hearing, her brother was appointed guardian. He had her best interests at heart, and the bills were paid, but he didn’t know her wishes and what treatments she would or would not have chosen.
  • Mary, a 48-year-old married woman with young children, had a devastating car accident leaving her unable to communicate. She had a number of solely owned assets, including a small solely owned business, which needed to be managed and maintained and assets accessed to pay for the extensive care she now needed. Her distraught husband had to bring a guardianship action which came with a significant financial and emotional expense.
  • John, age 66, was unmarried; he had neither children nor parents, but he had two siblings. He and his sister had spoken about the need for a will and a power of attorney. Three weeks passed and he was struck by a brain tumor, left unable to speak intelligibly or comprehend. His sister filed to be appointed his emergency guardian, and while she had a good sense of what her brother wanted, and she likely would have been his choice, it came with both an emotional and a financial toll.
  • Sarah, a 72-year-old woman with progressive Parkinson’s, is unmarried and has no surviving parents, children, or siblings. However, she has distant relatives all of whom are unable to serve as her guardian. She is no longer able to manage her care or her finances and a professional guardian was appointed. While this guardian is doing an excellent job, Sarah didn’t have a choice in who the court appointed as her guardian.

Each of these situations resulted in several thousand dollars of attorneys’ fees and court costs which could have been avoided with a DGPOA and a HCPOA. Had Susan executed a DGPOA and a HCPOA, she could’ve shared with her chosen agent(s) her own desires as to the management of her finances as well as her health care. Mary, as a small business owner, would have benefited by having a DGPOA specifically tailored to include business powers so her business could be readily maintained. Had John executed both a DGPOA and a HCPOA, his sister could have avoided a costly, upsetting emergency guardianship proceeding. Lastly, had Sarah executed a DGPOA and a HCPOA, she could have avoided a guardianship hearing and the selection of an unknown/unrelated guardian.

Advanced planning means your voice is heard at a time when you can no longer speak for yourself. Consult your attorney today to assist you with drafting appropriate powers of attorney tailored to your needs at a fraction of the cost of an emergency guardianship hearing.  If you need to obtain a power of attorney, you should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. At Herr Potts and Potts, located in Wayne and West Chester, our attorneys are prepared to help you prepare a power of attorney to protect you and your family. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us at (610) 254-0114.