People often ask me as an estate planning lawyer how to set up a power of attorney in Virginia. It isn’t hard, but as with any legal strategy, it can be critical to consult an expert. Just like online wills, an online power of attorney can be a problem. Whether it’s done online or by an attorney, there are key mistakes to avoid.
First, to manage your affairs when you are disabled, you need the right power of attorney, not just any power of attorney. Many have a limit on gift-giving while you’re disabled. But those restrictions may leave your agent unable to make permissible or transfers that might help you or your parent qualify for Medicaid or VA benefits.
Second, I also see powers of attorney which name the wrong person to act as financial agent when a person becomes incapacitated. The person first named may have become disabled or have died since you signed it, and you may have failed to name a substitute agent in that case. Or the person named may now have become untrustworthy— more interested in helping herself than you. And that can be costly.
Third, is your power of attorney accessible, does your agent even know he’s named, or where your important papers are kept? Signing one is useless if nobody knows where it is when you need it.
You may know how to fix a carburetor, a leaky faucet or your laptop computer, or be able to teach your Yellow Lab to juggle. But don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to planning for your own disability, or that of a parent or other loved one.
And while you are Googling around about powers of attorney, you might look for a comprehensive plan for your disability, which could involve trusts, asset protection planning, and planning for medical decision making. A qualified estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney is often the best place to start.