All estate plans should include a durable power of attorney whereby an individual, or principal, directs another person, his agent, to act in his stead with respect to a list of property management, or financial, powers. The principal may direct that the appointment survives his or her incapacity, or may direct that the power springs from his or her incapacity.
It is crucial to select an agent who one knows to be reliable and ethical because he or she is giving another person full control over the management of the assets selected in the power. The agent has the power to act independent of the principal. Powers of attorney allow a principal to delegate authority to manage property only. The document confers no authority over health care decisions.
To give authority over health care decision making, one must sign a health care proxy, which has the same effect over health care decision making as the power of attorney has over property decision making. Having both documents is extremely important as that can save an estate substantial legal fees if a principal becomes incapacitated. Without the power of attorney and health care proxy delegating powers to another, the only option available is a guardianship proceeding which can be time consuming, expensive and often times, painful.