What Can Happen if You Don't Have a Power of Attorney?

By Heather Frances J.D.

If you suddenly became unable to handle your own finances or make your own health care choices, a person you appointed in a power of attorney -- your agent -- could make decisions for you and take care of your financial affairs. Without a power of attorney, however, your family may have to go to court to obtain permission to manage these areas of your life when you are no longer able to.

Power of Attorney for Finances

If you wish to give your agent power to access your bank accounts, pay your bills, obtain loans or perform other financial acts for you, you can give him a power of attorney for finances. You can give your agent a limited power of attorney, which grants your agent certain limited powers, or you can give him a general power of attorney, which grants him broad authority. You may also choose to make your power of attorney durable, meaning it remains in effect if you become incapacitated. If you only want your agent to have authority if you become incapacitated -- and not before -- you can give your agent a "springing" power of attorney that will only become effective if you become incapacitated.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

A power of attorney for health care or medical power of attorney gives your agent authority to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Typically, your power of attorney for health care lists your preferences for medical care and end-of-life care, such as artificial respiration and artificially-supplied nutrition and hydration. If you become incapacitated, perhaps because of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, your agent can carry out your wishes.

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Without a Power of Attorney for Finances

While you are capable of handling your own finances, a power of attorney for finances may not be necessary. However, if you become incapacitated and don’t have a power of attorney for finances, your loved ones may have difficulties taking care of your financial affairs, such as paying your bills or cashing checks written to you. Your family may be forced to petition a court to be appointed as your legal guardian or conservator in order to gain the powers they need to care for you.

Without a Power of Attorney for Health Care

If you don’t have a power of attorney for health care, your end-of-life care preferences may not be known or may not be carried out. This can place a heavy burden on your loved ones since they may be forced to make tough decisions about your care at a time when they are already emotionally drained. Also, family members may disagree with any decisions made, causing strain on family relationships.

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Difference Between Living Will & Durable Power of Attorney


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Can the Next of Kin Overrule a Living Will?

When you can’t make health care decisions for yourself, your next of kin can step in to make those decisions for you. However, while you are still capable of making decisions, you can create a living will to document your health care wishes. When your documented wishes conflict with what your family wants, your physicians are supposed to follow the terms of your living will.

Risks of a Financial Power of Attorney

Giving someone power of attorney over your financial affairs can be frightening, especially if the reason you need the power of attorney is because you have been incapacitated in some way. Having unsupervised access to money can bring out the worst instincts in some people, but if you choose your agent carefully, having a trusted individual to act as an agent on your behalf can be a huge help.

How to Write a Free Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney document gives another person the power to make your healthcare or financial decisions if you become incapacitated. The power to handle your affairs for you lasts for as long as you are unable to make decisions yourself. Writing your own free durable power of attorney may be a good choice if you are trying to handle your own end-of-life affairs at minimal costs.

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