Question: What is Power of Attorney and why do I need one?
Answer: A Power of Attorney is a document that grants specific health care or financial decision-making authority to another person. Contrary to what many people think, Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” state, so family members do not have the inherent ability to make financial or health care decisions on behalf of another person just by virtue of being a spouse, adult child, sibling, or other relative. As a result, it is very important for all Wisconsin citizens, regardless of age or disability, to have these documents in place. If you become incapacitated (i.e. unable to make health care and financial decisions for yourself) and do not have Power of Attorney documents executed, your family may be forced to go through the court system to establish a Legal Guardianship so they can act on your behalf. This can be a costly and lengthy process.
Power of Attorney for Health Care vs. Power of Attorney for Finances
There are two different types of Power of Attorney documents – one that addresses health care decisions, and one that addresses financial decisions. It is important to have both in place, as each document grants limited and specific decision-making authority to the designated agent. For example, a person who is named as your health care power of attorney cannot make decisions regarding your finances (including liquidating assets to pay for your care) unless you also have a Power of Attorney for finance in which they are named as your agent.
How Do I Execute a Power of Attorney?
There are a couple of different ways to execute a Power of Attorney. One way is to hire a private attorney. The other is to use forms provided by the state of Wisconsin. These forms include all of the necessary language to create a legally binding document, but it is important to complete them fully and follow all instructions regarding proper execution.
If you have questions about how to complete these forms, you can contact the Guardianship Support Center at 1-855-409-9410.