I recently retired, and my children and friends keep telling me that I need to create various documents—like a "power of attorney," or some people tell me a "durable power of attorney." What's the difference between the two? And will these two documents be enough to ensure that someone takes care of both my finances and my medical decisions if I get so sick that I can't take care of things myself?
A power of attorney is a legal document you can use to give someone else the authority to take specific actions on your behalf, such as signing your checks to pay your bills or selling a particular piece of real estate for you. If a power of attorney is durable, it remains valid and in effect even if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. If a power of attorney document does not explicitly say that the power is durable, it ends if you become incapacitated.
But wait. There's more. There are two kinds of durable powers of attorney: a durable power of attorney for finances lets you name someone to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated, and a durable power of attorney for health care allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you are no longer able to speak for yourself. Preparing these two documents, along with a health care directive—more commonly known as a living will—that sets out your wishes for medical care, ensures that your health and financial matters will stay in the hands of trusted people you choose.
You will need to have your power of attorney for health care witnessed and/or notarized, depending on your state's laws. You should have your durable power of attorney for finances notarized, and in some cases, witnessed as well. (Find out more about your state's financial POA laws.)