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Advice for principals considering powers of attorney

California residents who are considering how their estates will be managed if they become incapacitated might want to execute a power of attorney. An individual, called the principal, creates this document to designate a trusted party, called the agent, to attend to financial matters if illness or injury prevents the principal from performing the duties. An individual should never sign this document if feeling pressured or lacking comfort with its terms. In some cases, financial professionals, relatives or friends pressure people into naming them as agents so that they can take elderly people's money.

In general, a power of attorney grants the agent the ability to pay the person's bills, manage investments or even sell real estate. The document outlines the precise scope of the agent's authority, and the principal gets to determine these terms. They should be developed with the advice of trusted advisers until the principal has complete confidence that the terms address personal needs and not other people's needs.

A principal could inquire with the applicable financial institutions and ask to be alerted if someone tries to activate a power of attorney. Because these institutions have legal obligations to protect privacy and account access, they should willingly comply with such requests and warn account holders of attempts by unauthorized individuals to access funds.

An individual with questions about a power of attorney could consult an attorney who has experience with these types of estate planning documents. While there are many available forms on the internet, people should be wary of using them and instead have legal assistance in inserting the types of provisions that will protect their interests.

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