Skip to content

A Useless Power of Attorney: Avoid Free Legal Documents

Businessman sits in front of laptop amid paperwork gritting teeth in frustration.A power of attorney designates a trusted individual to make decisions or conduct transactions on your behalf. They could be related to personal finances, business operations, or medical needs and used for a single immediate purpose or an ongoing situation.

This may sound pretty straightforward. You might be tempted to download a free form to take care of it when looking for services online. But will that be enough to ensure the document is legally recognized, important matters are handled quickly, and your specific instructions are followed?

Understanding Powers of Attorney

Implementing Power of Attorney (POA) documents is an integral part of your estate planning process. All states recognize powers of attorney, but rules and requirements will differ from state to state. The POA document gives one or more individuals the legal authority to act as your agent on your behalf.

Depending on which POA you choose, you may limit the agent’s power to a particular activity. This might include things like real estate sales or broader applications.

A power of attorney may give permanent or temporary authority to the agent you appoint. You can set the POA up to invoke immediately. Or, you can have it activate when a future event, such as a physical disability, occurs. The latter is a “springing” power of attorney.

Other types of powers of attorney include limited, durable, and general POAs.

For example, a general POA permits the agent to deal with any matters on your behalf that state law allows. Under such an agreement, the agent may sign checks, handle bank accounts, sell property, manage assets, and file taxes when you are unable. This POA has a wide latitude of authority. Therefore, there needs to be coordination between you and your agent to ensure your best interests are always represented.

The better-known powers of attorney are durable and take effect if you are incapacitated. The word “durable” means the powers will remain intact even when you can no longer manage your affairs. There are two types of durable POAs; one handles financial matters, and the other manages medical affairs, often called a health care directive.

You also may rescind powers of attorney. However, most states will require written notice of revocation to the named individual or entity.

Consider the following scenarios, when free, online powers of attorney don’t prove as helpful as you may have hoped.

Financial Power of Attorney

Suppose a business colleague wants you to take care of their business operations. You become responsible for making critical decisions while they are out of the country.

They give you POA by using a free online legal document that promises to contain everything you need to comply with state law. The document seems noticeably concise. You wonder why legal documents need to be so lengthy and expensive in the first place.

When you go to your friend’s bank to transfer funds, the bank denies you access. You discover why: The bank requires different forms and rules for a power of attorney. Your friend had no knowledge of these requirements, and now you won’t able to contact them for several weeks.

When you track them down, they must fill out additional forms with the bank and get them notarized before you attempt any more transactions. The legal document failed.

Health Care or Medical Power of Attorney

You receive a call about a good friend who has suffered a head injury and needs urgent nursing home care. He is looking at long-term care costs between $5,000 and $8,000 a month for rehabilitation. However, you know he lives on a fixed income of only $2,500 a month from Social Security. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care services, and his income is too high to qualify for assistance from Medicaid.

On top of facing a financial crisis, someone needs to make decisions about the level and cost of care he can afford. Your friend doesn’t have the capacity to make them in his current situation.

You know what he has expressed in the past about specific treatments and efforts to prolong his life. You even witnessed the online form he used for a health care power of attorney.

However, his family members contest the document. Meanwhile, the doctors won’t listen to you without more specific advanced health care directives and a signed HIPAA release form. Another legal document failure.

The Dangers of Free Online Documents

How can online documents be legally approved for use by the public but insufficient when you need to use them? The POA documents that you may have believed would prove helpful in the scenarios above only offered general information for the most basic needs. With so many variables in finances, business, and medical situations, the language is often not specific enough to address the unique problem.

When you get a POA through an estate planning firm, each document contains wording regarding several circumstances and refers to other critical documents, like living wills and trusts. Additional details instruct the person you’ve chosen to act on your behalf when dealing with decisions regarding banking and medical institutions or personnel. For example, it may permit them to set up another trust, reorganize assets, open and close banking or investment accounts, and require health care professionals to comply with your medical wishes.

Connect With Your Estate Planning Attorney

A free online power of attorney could cost you valuable time, money, and frustration. Many other legal considerations determine how your power of attorney will work.

The best way to establish powers of attorney is to work with your estate planning attorney. They can go over common pitfalls and discuss options on how to avoid them. They also understand the criteria for identifying the individuals or agents to represent your interests.

When you rely on legal documents to get an important job done or simplify decisions in an emergency, it needs to work as promised. Consult with your estate planner to ensure you are prepared to handle any situation. The biggest benefit of having these matters settled before you have passed away or become unable to handle your affairs is allowing your family to care or grieve for you instead of being caught up in logistics.

Back To Top