A key estate planning document that every Missouri resident should have is a power of attorney. This grants another person the authority to act as your agent. A power of attorney can be limited or general in scope.
A limited power of attorney limits your agent to only exercising that authority specifically granted in the document. For instance, if you plan to sell your house but are unable to personally attend the closing, you could give someone else your limited power of attorney to complete the sale on your behalf.
A general power of attorney, by contrast, grants your agent broad authority to manage your property. In effect, the agent can step into your shoes and do just about anything you are allowed to do with your property. Now, Missouri law does require that certain powers must be explicitly listed even in a general power of attorney, such as the ability to execute, amend, or revoke a trust on your behalf, or to make changes to your other estate planning documents. There are some things that the law forbids an agent to do at all, including making a will or living will on your behalf.
Durable Powers of Attorney
Under a regular power of attorney, the agent ceases to have any legal authority once the principal–the person who made the power of attorney–becomes legally incapacitated. This might sound like it defeats the whole purpose of having a power of attorney. After all, most people would want their agent to act if they were physically or mentally unable to do so.
Fortunately, you can sign what Missouri law recognizes as a durable power of attorney. With a durable power of attorney, your agent may continue to act in your name even if you are incapacitated. For example, if you are seriously injured in a car accident and are lying in a coma at the hospital, your agent under a durable power of attorney may continue to pay your bills and manage your property. You can also sign a durable power of attorney that only takes effect when an incapacitating event takes place.
Death and Revocation of a Power of Attorney
When the principal dies, all powers of attorney previously executed by that person are automatically revoked by law. This even applies to durable powers of attorney. Basically, once a person dies, the oversight of their property and finances must pass to the personal representative of their estate.
You can also revoke or modify a power of attorney at any point during your lifetime. While it is technically permissible in Missouri to orally revoke a power of attorney, it is generally a good idea to do so in writing so there is no confusion as to your wishes.
Financial Affairs vs. Health Care
Up to this point, we have discussed powers of attorney as they apply to property and finances. You can also sign a power of attorney for health care. This appoints an agent solely to make health-related decisions for you, such as whether to place you in a nursing home or how to dispose of your body after death. Missouri law treats healthcare powers of attorney separately from financial powers of attorney, so it is a good idea to have both documents in place.
If you need advice on making a power of attorney and would like to consult with a St. Louis estate planning attorney, contact the Law Office of Keya M. Reed LLC today.