What is a Power of Attorney

When someone mentions a Power of Attorney, they are usually referencing one of two basic documents the Financial Power of Attorney and the Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions.

Financial Power of Attorney

This particular power of attorney is a written document that gives you the ability to designate someone, other than yourself, to act as your legal agent in exclusively financial matters. This person is called the “agent” or “attorney in fact.” The person giving away the powers is called the “principal.” These powers can take effect as soon as the document is signed (immediately) or can “spring” into action when a specific event occurs.

The powers given to the agent can be general or extremely specific. Most often they include:

  • The ability to handle all bank accounts
  • Write checks
  • Pay Bills
  • Handle CDs, stocks and bonds
  • Deal with real property
  • Hire and fire professionals
  • Almost any legal act that the principal commonly does for herself

It is also important to insure that the person designated as your agent is trustworthy and available. The power of attorney can be terminated in writing by the principal at any time and automatically ends at the death of the principal.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

Iowa law allows individuals to confer upon an attorney-in-fact the authority to make medical and healthcare decisions on behalf of the person granting the powers. A healthcare power of attorney essentially takes the place of a guardianship and allows the attorney-in-fact to make daily healthcare decisions without court supervision. Federal law requires medical facilities to inform all patients, prior to admission, of the right to sign a living will or a healthcare power of attorney.

By executing a healthcare power of attorney, you are authorizing the attorney-in- fact to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. Healthcare decisions means the consent, refusal to consent or withdrawal of consent to healthcare. Healthcare means any care, treatment, service or procedure, the purpose of which is to maintain, diagnose or treat an individual’s physical or mental condition.

It is a good idea to nominate an alternate attorney in fact, in case your first choice is unable or no longer willing to serve as your attorney-in-fact. However, we do not recommend that you appoint co-attorneys-in-fact. Naming just one attorney-in-fact will avoid deadlocks or disputes over healthcare decisions.

You may revoke a power of attorney at any time. To make an effective revocation, you must communicate your intent to revoke. This communication may be oral or written. The communication should be made to the attorney-in-fact. However, if you are currently receiving healthcare services, then you may revoke your power of attorney by communicating your intent to your care provider.

The healthcare power of attorney allows you to grant to the attorney-in-fact the authority to make decisions regarding the use of life-sustaining procedures. Therefore, it is a good idea to also execute a living will that memorializes your intent and desire regarding the use of life-sustaining procedures, and not what your attorney in fact thinks you desire. The presence of a living will relieves the attorney in fact from making that difficult decision, if the situation arises.

Every situation is unique and requires individualized attention from our attorneys. If you would like to speak with an attorney regarding Power of Attorney or about any other legal issue you are having, please call 515-868-0088 to set up an initial consultation with us.

-Kyle A. von Johnson, Esq.