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Making a Financial Power of Attorney in California

Know what a California financial power of attorney can do for you.

By , J.D.

Why do I need a California financial power of attorney?

If you become ill or injured and you can't take care of your own finances, someone else must step in to help. With a financial power of attorney, you name a trusted person to pay bills, make bank deposits, watch over investments, collect insurance or government benefits, and handle other money matters on your behalf. Without this important document, your loved ones will have to go to court to get authority over your financial affairs.

Who makes financial decisions for me under a California financial power of attorney?

In California, the person you name to make decisions for you is called your agent. Any competent adult can serve as your agent; the person most definitely doesn't have to be a lawyer. Honesty, common sense, and dependability should be the most important factors in your decision. It's also wise to choose someone who lives nearby—this will make it easier to take care of practical tasks.

When does my financial power of attorney take effect?

In California, you can draft your financial power of attorney so that it takes effect as soon as you sign it. You must specify that you want it to be "durable." If you don't, it will automatically end if you become incapacitated.

If you don't want to make an immediately effective document, you can state that your power of attorney will not go into effect unless a doctor certifies that you have become incapacitated. This is called a "springing" durable power of attorney.

When does my financial power of attorney end?

A durable power of attorney automatically ends at your death. It also ends if:

  • You revoke it. As long as you are mentally competent, you can revoke your document at any time.
  • You get a divorce. In California, your durable power of attorney is automatically terminated if your spouse is your agent and you get a divorce. As a practical matter, it is always wise to make a new power of attorney as soon as you file for divorce.
  • A court invalidates your document. It's rare, but a court may declare your document invalid if it concludes that you were not mentally competent when you signed it, or that you were the victim of fraud or undue influence.
  • No agent is available. To avoid this problem you can name an alternate agent in your document.

Do I need a lawyer to make a financial power of attorney in California?

You usually don't need a lawyer to prepare a durable power of attorney for finances. In fact, many state governments have designed these forms for people to complete on their own by filling in the blanks. You can also try Nolo's bestselling Quicken WillMaker, which helps you create your own financial power of attorney (and other estate planning documents) in California.

For more on California estate planning issues, see our section on California Estate Planning.

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