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What is power of attorney and how to decide who should have it

Most of us have heard the words “power of attorney.” You may not know exactly what this means or how it can apply to you. It’s something important to understand because it might be relevant to you at some point in your life or in the life of a family member.

When a person (or people) you designate in a legal document acts in your behalf, either temporarily or permanently, due to your incapacitation, that individual or group of individuals is said to hold power of attorney. A person holding power of attorney can also be referred to as your agent, or alternatively, as your attorney-in-fact.

All states allow power of attorney although specific rules may not be the same from one state to another. The person holding power of attorney is authorized to conduct business for you if you are unable to do so yourself, such as selling your house or automobile or doing your banking. Your agent may have narrowly or broadly defined authority, depending upon your wishes.

 What to consider when selecting your agent

  • You can pick anyone to fulfill this role, such as your husband or wife, one or more of your children or a close friend. It helps if the person or people you name has financial knowledge, but the paramount characteristics you should look for are integrity, trustworthiness, honesty and reliability.
  • The person you pick should be willing to carry out all your instructions to the letter. If he or she argues with you, maybe it’s time to rethink your choice of an agent.
  • Make sure that the person understands in advance all the responsibilities that will be expected of him or her.

If you do not have an agent and you cannot handle your financial or personal dealings, a court may appoint someone to handle those matters for you. To avoid that, it’s wise to think about it in advance and name an agent. An experienced attorney in Tennessee can help by informing you of your options.