When the time comes in your life that a family member you love is incapacitated or can no longer make important, legal, financial, and medical decisions, you want someone to act in their best interest and follow their wishes. Designating a power of attorney is a crucial action that some people never do, or they wait until it’s too late to act. You can ensure that you can act on your loved one’s behalf when the time is necessary by helping your family member designate their power of attorney. Technically, you do not need a lawyer, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to have an attorney draw up the necessary paperwork to ensure it’s properly drafted and executed.
This guide provides a broad overview of power of attorneys in Louisiana, why you should have a lawyer help you draw up the necessary paperwork to help your loved one, and some common questions associated with your responsibilities as the power of attorney for a family member.
What Is a Power of Attorney?
If you’ve watched television or movies, you have at least a rudimentary understanding of power of attorney. Yet, Louisiana is different from every other state because it has a civil law system as opposed to common law. Power of attorney is a common law term; under Louisiana civil law, mandates and procuration are the correct legal terms. A mandate authorizes you to perform specific acts for your family member; you can think of a mandate as a limited power of attorney. A procuration is a broader authorization that you can think of as a general power of attorney. Family members who have power of attorney in Louisiana often fall under the procuration umbrella.
When Do You Need Your Family Member’s Power of Attorney?
Many scenarios arise where your family member will benefit from you having their power of attorney. In most cases, families plan ahead to prepare for the future possibility of debilitating illness, terminal disease, or accidents resulting in mental incapacitation. It’s in everyone’s best interest to take estate planning seriously and designate a power of attorney, but some scenarios urgently require action:
- Families of service members must help their active-duty member designate power of attorney to make financial and legal decisions during deployment. Additionally, active-duty service members risk injury during deployment, so they need to assign their power of attorney to a loved one to make crucial decisions about medical treatment.
- Families of those who work in high-risk careers also need to be diligent about helping their loved ones designate their power of attorney, especially with regard to medical care. Examples include police officers, agricultural workers, construction workers, and offshore workers in the Gulf.
- Families of those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease help their loved ones designate power of attorney because of the imminent loss of mental capacity. Planning while your loved one still has the ability to make decisions allows your loved one to share their wishes with everyone involved and designate their power of attorney to someone they trust.
- Some individuals choose to designate their power of attorney to a family member for business purposes or convenience rather than an immediate medical or professional need. Your loved one might want you to handle financial transactions or legal issues.
Why Should a Lawyer Help My Loved One Designate Their Power of Attorney?
On the surface, you might think designating a power of attorney simply means having your loved one sign a form that assigns you or someone else as their agent, so a lawyer is unnecessary. Estate planning attorneys who draft mandates and general powers of attorney in Louisiana play a critical role in protecting the rights and wishes of your loved one. Fill-in-the-blank forms you find on the internet do not provide the customized language the document should provide to meet your family member’s specific needs and wants.
Specific considerations lawyers make when helping draft powers of attorney include:
- A power of attorney document, especially a mandate, specifically outlines the powers an agent has such as buying and selling property, paying debts, making medical treatment decisions, making gifts, designating beneficiaries. The wording in the document is significant to its interpretation when executed. In some cases, your family member’s power of attorney document won’t be legally binding if the language isn’t right.
- A power of attorney can immediately take effect or execution can occur when your loved one becomes incapacitated, known as a ‘springing’ power of attorney. Lawyers help clients determine the exact conditions required for execution and place the appropriate language in the document.
- Sometimes people want to designate more than one person or agent. The wrong language can lead to unneeded family drama and do-it-yourself forms leave massive gaps for interpretation. A lawyer clearly outlines each person’s responsibilities and what should happen if one or all agents cannot act as a result of death or their own incapacitation.
- Lawyers help your family member properly execute their power of attorney so it’s valid. In Louisiana, all power of attorney documents must be notarized.
- As mentioned above, Louisiana law differs from every other state. There is a good chance any power of attorney forms you find on the internet will not work in Louisiana. Slight differences in the civil code make it a poor choice to trust form documents from the internet. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney will ensure your documents conform to Louisiana law.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney to Help Your Family Member
The experienced estate planning attorneys at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have drafted countless powers of attorneys for clients and guided them through the proper execution of the document. We take careful measures to craft a customized, legally binding document that helps your family member put trust in another when or if they become incapacitated because of work, illness, or disease. Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss your estate planning needs with a member of our skilled legal team.