Navigating the intricacies of estate planning can be complex. Here at Peach State Wills & Trusts, we often come across a common misconception: that spouses automatically have power of attorney for each other. However, this isn't accurate. Let's dive into the topic of spousal power of attorney in Georgia and dispel any misunderstandings.
A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person, known as the principal, to appoint someone else, known as the agent, to make decisions and manage things on their behalf. This is generally used when the principal is unable to make decisions due to illness or incapacity, or just needs help in getting things done. The decisions can range from financial matters to healthcare-related decisions, depending on the scope of the power of attorney (in Georgia, healthcare is managed by an Advance Directive for Healthcare, and financial and personal business affairs and handled through a power of attorney). Contrary to popular belief, being married does not automatically grant power of attorney over each other's affairs. In Georgia, just like in most other states, power of attorney must be explicitly granted through a legally binding document voluntarily signed by the principal.
Why Granting Power of Attorney is Crucial
The assumption that spouses automatically possess power of attorney can lead to difficult situations. For instance, if a spouse becomes incapacitated without a power of attorney in place, the other spouse might find themselves unable to access individual bank accounts or other assets or make important medical decisions. Additionally, it's important to note that power of attorney ends upon the death of the principal. Even if you have power of attorney for your spouse, this does not allow you to handle your spouse's affairs after they pass away. For estate-related matters, another legal document, a will or a trust, is required.
Setting Up a Power of Attorney
Setting up a power of attorney in Georgia is a relatively straightforward process, but it involves critical decisions that can greatly impact your future. This process entails the principal - the individual delegating authority - executing a power of attorney document. However, to ensure the process is handled correctly, it's crucial to involve an experienced estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can provide invaluable assistance during the creation of a power of attorney document. They can ensure the document is legally sound, respects the wishes of the principal, and covers all the necessary bases. Additionally, they can provide guidance on the decisions you're making and help you understand the implications of those decisions. Having professional support can make the process smoother and more efficient, leaving you confident in your decisions.
Understanding Different Types of Power of Attorney
There are several types of power of attorney documents, each serving distinct purposes and providing various levels of authority. Here's a brief overview of the main types:
- General Power of Attorney: This grants the agent broad powers to act on the principal's behalf in different matters, including financial and business transactions.
- Durable Power of Attorney: Unlike the general power of attorney, which terminates if the principal becomes incapacitated, a durable power of attorney remains effective even in such circumstances. The durability nature, continuing powers after the principal is incapacitated, is typically very important when we are preparing a comprehensive estate plan for a client.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney: This specific type of power of attorney allows the agent to make medical decisions on the principal's behalf if the principal is unable to do so. Here in Georgia, we use the Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare that incorporates provisions of a healthcare power of attorney with a living will, so that it appoints an agent to manage a person's healthcare, and spells out how the principal wants to be treated medically in some common end of life scenarios.
Selecting the right type of power of attorney document requires careful consideration. Each one serves a unique function and has its own advantages and limitations. Thus, it's important to thoroughly discuss your individual circumstances, concerns, and goals with a professional to choose the most suitable power of attorney for your needs.
Reach Out to Peach State Wills & Trusts
We hope this clarifies the common misconceptions surrounding spousal power of attorney in Georgia. The process may seem daunting, but remember, you are not alone. Contact Peach State Wills & Trusts at 678-344-5342 to learn how to plan for power of attorney in Georgia today. For additional information about estate planning in Georgia, download our free guide here, with no strings attached. We're here to guide you through the complexities of estate planning with confidence and peace of mind.