Power of Attorney
Most people are familiar with the power of attorney form because of its place in the common triad of estate documents that also includes a will and health care directive. Financial advisors and attorneys often recommend all three be executed for a complete estate plan to cover the majority of future needs. But low and behold, there comes a day when the individual you’ve appointed as your attorney-in-fact contacts your bank to transact on your behalf, and he or she is turned away. The bank won’t accept the power of attorney form that you successfully executed and forgot about 20 years ago, but instead requires a proprietary form be signed by both you and your attorney-in-fact plus notarized and submitted to the bank’s processing center, where processing may take 8-10 business days. Imagine if you’re also unable to legally nominate an attorney-in-fact at this time due to diminished mental capacity. How could this have been avoided?
The best way to prevent a situation like the above is to take action now. We are constantly encouraging our clients to plan for today. It’s our experience that if you don’t plan for today, you may never get around to formalizing your estate documents. It’s hard, if not impossible, to visualize your life 30, 40 or even 50 years from now. How large will your estate be then? Will your children and grandchildren be equipped to receive and responsibly manage the funds? What will the world even be like that many years from now? So many questions that you can’t begin to answer. But if you focus on the facts that exist in your life right now, decisions get easier. You know the value of your assets, how your children handle money and how the world functions today. Draft estate documents with those facts in mind. Maybe your adult child isn’t in a place to be your power of attorney right now so you choose a sibling or close friend. Then, you revisit that decision every couple of years with your financial advisor and attorney, making changes if and when appropriate.
Another proactive step that can be taken today is to determine if all of your account custodians will accept the power of attorney form you’ve executed. It’s usually a simple phone call to your financial advisor, who may know the protocol for major banks and brokers or be able to get the answer for you. The requirements vary among custodians, with some needing a separate form completed in addition to your power of attorney or completely ignoring your power of attorney form in lieu of an in-house form. IRS and state tax agencies also have unique power of attorney forms if a tax matter arises.
With the long summer days behind us, now may be the perfect time to revisit your power of attorney designations and do some housekeeping across all of your accounts. Remember that third parties are not legally required to accept statutory power of attorney forms, but a simple check-in with your financial advisor today can ease a lot of stress and headaches tomorrow.
Laura Bereiter, CPA, PFS™, CFP® joined White Oaks Wealth Advisors in October 2015. She offers comprehensive wealth, tax, and estate planning to the firm’s clients.