A power of attorney, or POA, is an essential estate planning document. Almost every estate plan in North Dakota includes at least one, and usually more, powers of attorney. Through your POA you can delegate some of your decision-making rights to another person or organization. Usually, people choose to make at least one POA that gives financial decision-making authority, while another that gives medical decision-making authority.
Yet a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of giving another person the right to make decisions on their behalf. While this is a common concern, it’s not something you should spend a lot of time worrying about. Here are several commonly asked questions about POAs, your decision-making rights, and how the two interact.
Do I lose my rights when I make a POA?
No. You retain all of your decision-making rights whenever you create a power of attorney. The POA simply gives you the ability to delegate your authority to someone else to allow that person to handle some of your responsibilities. After you create a POA, you retain the ability to revoke or modify it at any time as long as you remain mentally competent.
Do I lose my rights under a POA if I am incapacitated?
No. If you are incapacitated you cannot legally make decisions for yourself. Someone else will have to make choices for you. When you make a POA, you select the person you want to act as your representative. If you don’t make a POA, you leave it up to a court to determine who should step in to manage your affairs.
Will my agent abuse the power I give under a POA?
While there is no way to predict what people will do in the future, creating a power of attorney does not simply give your agent the ability to start taking advantage of you. In fact, just the opposite is true. An agent under a POA has a legal responsibility to act in your best interests. If the agent abuses his or her powers, the law imposes some significant penalties. In some situations, an agent who abuses his or her position can even face criminal charges.
Do I have to create a power of attorney?
No. Even though they are incredibly useful and flexible documents, there is no legal obligation in any state that requires you to create a power of attorney at any time. If you decide that you want to create a POA, you and only you get to decide what powers you want to give your agent. Further, you are the only person who can decide who your agent is.