A proper estate plan includes a last will and testament, beneficiary designations, a trust, a living will, and a power of attorney. If you need to develop a comprehensive estate plan – and almost everyone does – seek the advice and guidance of a Fort Lauderdale estate planning lawyer.

Should you have a power of attorney? A power of attorney is a document that legally authorizes someone (your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent”) to conduct your personal business in your name if you become disabled or incapacitated.

A power of attorney grants to someone you’ve designated the authority to manage your affairs and to make medical, business, or financial decisions on your behalf. You can give your agent limited responsibilities or broad decision-making power over your affairs.

Who Should Have a Power of Attorney?

But how can you be sure that you are giving this authority to the right person? If you’ll keep reading, you will find some suggestions for selecting the right person to use your power of attorney, and you will also learn more about a power of attorney in Florida and how it works.

It’s important to know, because anyone could be suddenly, unexpectedly injured, disabled, and/or incapacitated. In fact, anyone in south Florida who is 18 or older should consider creating a power of attorney with help from a Fort Lauderdale estate planning attorney.

If you are incapacitated and you cannot make personal choices and decisions that must be made for yourself and your family, a power of attorney gives your agent the legal authority to make those decisions on your behalf in order to ensure your well-being and protect your best interests.

How is Incapacity Defined?

What constitutes incapacity? Florida law states that incapacity is: “The inability of an individual to take those actions necessary to obtain, administer, and dispose of real and personal property, intangible property, business property, benefits, and income.”

The extent of your agent’s authority is up to you and should be spelled out clearly in the power of attorney document. Your agent may be authorized to pay your bills, to sell off assets to cover your medical costs, and/or to ensure that you receive any income or benefits you are entitled to.

Who Should Be Your Agent?

Your first step, if you want to establish a power of attorney, will be to select someone you trust to handle your affairs if and when you can’t. Whoever you select as your agent must be a person you trust with your life, because that is exactly what you will be doing. You can’t be too careful.

Choose someone who is qualified for the task. Your agent should be committed to your best long-term interests, attentive to details, have financial knowledge and experience, and be comfortable doing business with lawyers, bankers, accountants, and medical professionals.

Talk with that person about your power of attorney and an agent’s responsibilities. Having that discussion will help you know if you have chosen the right person. You should also name a successor agent in case the person you select can’t serve as your agent when he or she is needed.

Depending on the terms of your power of attorney document, the individual you choose will have access to and make important decisions about your home, personal property, medical care, financial accounts, and business affairs.

What Are Florida’s Rules for a Power of Attorney?

Florida requires your power of attorney document to be notarized and signed before two witnesses, and the notary public can be one of those witnesses. A legally valid power of attorney from another state will be honored in Florida.

If the power of attorney document gives your agent the ability to sell or buy real estate on your behalf, the document must be submitted to the county clerk’s office in the Florida county where you currently reside.

The law in Florida entitles power of attorney agents to be compensated. Family members, financial institutions, estate planning lawyers, and certified public accountants who are registered or licensed in this state may be designated as agents and compensated for their work.

Also under Florida law, the moment you file for divorce, your spouse no longer has any authority to act as your agent under your power of attorney. Your divorce does not have to be final – filing is all it takes.

What Else Should You Know?

A last will and testament does not function as a power of attorney. Your will leaves your instructions for dividing and distributing your assets and property after your death, but a power of attorney concerns only the choices that must be made while you are living.

However, in Florida you are allowed to create a living will in addition to your power of attorney. A living will addresses specific concerns related to end-of-life medical treatment such as the use of “heroic” lifesaving measures.

If you are healthy, a power of attorney may not be needed – right now. But if you become incapacitated, your family may have trouble cashing your checks or paying your bills without a power of attorney.

The right estate planning lawyer will ensure that your power of attorney is easy to understand, that nothing is missed, and that you have the chance to consider your options thoroughly, thoughtfully, and carefully.

How Can an Estate Planning Attorney Help You and Your Family?

For many in South Florida, a power of attorney is only one part of a more comprehensive estate plan. A south Florida estate planning lawyer can also discuss with you the other legal tools that you should consider if you want to be fully prepared for the future.

If you have family members or other loved ones who depend on you, putting a comprehensive estate plan in place that includes a power of attorney is the way to ensure that your loved ones will be cared for if you can’t care for them yourself and after you pass away.

Every estate plan is different – there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Moving forward, you are going to need specific and personalized estate planning advice.

Peace of mind regarding your family and the future begins by scheduling a consultation with the right estate planning lawyer. It is never too early to create a power of attorney or to plan your estate with the advice, insights, and guidance of a Fort Lauderdale estate planning lawyer.