Life is unpredictable. But it’s not for nothing that the cliché says: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. One of the best things you can do to safeguard your assets is to prepare for the worst, including death and debilitating illness. You should also plan for a scenario where you’re not able to be physically present when business decisions have to be made. Here is a checklist for estate planning you can use to get started. This article covers one aspect of the checklist—the durable power of attorney and how you can use it to protect yourself. What Is A Power of Attorney? A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives someone (called an attorney-in-fact or an agent) the authority to act on behalf of another person (called a principal). A power of attorney is usually used when the principal becomes ill, is disabled, or cannot be physically present to sign legal or financial documents. A POA is especially important to real estate investors because it means your investments are not neglected when you’re indisposed. Now, there are several types of powers of attorney. What we will concern ourselves with here are two types that are vital in your estate planning journey. Types of Powers of Attorney Building on our earlier statement, we will broadly cover two types of power of attorney; durable and medical power of attorney. Durable Power of Attorney A durable POA is a type of power of attorney that comes into effect in the event of the incapacitation of the principal. It is called a durable power of attorney because it can last for the entire principal’s lifetime unless it is revoked. The power isn’t activated until the principal is incapacitated, though. The durable POA only covers legal, property, or financial issues. The agent or attorney-in-fact doesn’t have the power to make decisions concerning the principal’s health except when paying the principal’s health bills. To be able to do that, a medical or healthcare POA is needed. Medical Power of Attorney A medical power of attorney gives the attorney-in-fact the power to make decisions regarding the principal’s health. You might also hear it called a health power of attorney, an advance directive, or an advance healthcare directive. As Scott discusses in the video above, the healthcare power of attorney and durable power of attorney let people help you when you become incapacitated. All the operational pieces can be done in your home to allow others to make health decisions for you when you aren’t able to do so on your own behalf. How Do You Prepare a Durable Power of Attorney? Thanks to LegalZoom and a ton of other online sites, you can download or buy a power of attorney template online. However, because of how the requirements vary by state, we recommend you contact a asset protection attorney to guide you through the process. While a POA is extremely useful, it doesn’t allow the delegations of a few rights, such as the right to vote, the right to make, amend, or revoke a will, and (in some states) the right to contract a marriage. While the requirements of a POA vary from state to state, here some general recommendations: Put it in writing: verbal powers of attorney are acceptable in some regions. However, they can be unreliable and confusing. Fill it out correctly: you will need to fulfill all the requirements for a power of attorney in your state. Using an attorney is your best bet. Identify each party: the principal and the agent should be identified in the document. Delegate the power: the powers should be granted to the agent or attorney-in-fact. The granted powers should be clear, and you should avoid general, sweeping statements. Specify durability: for a durable power of attorney, this is for as long as the principal remains alive unless it is revoked. For other types of POA, you should explicitly state how long it is going to last. Notarize the POA: notarizing the POA will save you a lot of hassle down the line, even in states where notarizing powers of attorney isn’t a requirement. Some states require it, though, which means it has to be notarized before it can be considered valid. Record and file it: while it isn’t a requirement to record a POA in many counties, this is standard practice for estate planning. Filing the document with the courts is the final step that makes it valid. Choosing an Agent and the Risks Involved Creating a durable power of attorney can have tremendous advantages: it means you can still be in charge (in a sense) if you are incapacitated. However, in essence, you are signing over your entire financial and legal life to someone else to control. Even though there are means to help make creating a power of attorney safer, such as choosing multiple agents and having them check each other, you should take note of who you select as an agent. Here are some characteristics you should check for when naming an agent: Trustworthiness: the agent should be someone you trust to handle your affairs diligently and fairly. Avoid agents with a history of substance abuse, gambling, stealing, and unreliability. You should be able to trust that they will follow your instructions, even over other peoples’ objections. Competence: your agent should not have a history of irresponsibility with their finances. Do You Need a POA? A durable power of attorney document will help safeguard your investments when you’re not able to do so personally. You should take care to select an appropriate agent when creating one, to ensure optimal protection. Interested in learning more? Check out our articles Using a Power of Attorney With a Land Trust and Do I Need a Medical Power of Attorney?