If your estate plan does not include a power of attorney designation, that may be because you have some confusion about what the document is or about what it may mean for your future. Certainly, it is not easy to think that a day may come when you cannot make financial, legal or medical decisions for yourself, and signing those powers over to someone else may be a terrifying prospect.

There is a delicate balance between protecting yourself now and protecting yourself in the future, but since no one knows if or when they may become incapacitated, it is wise to have a POA in place. Learning as much as you can about the POA is the first step to overcoming your fears and misconceptions.

Myth vs. truth

You may have decided to wait until it is necessary to sign a power of attorney. However, it is critical that you are of sound mind when you sign any legal document. If you become incapacitated because of illness or accident, you may lose the opportunity, and your family will have no choice but to endure a long and painful court process to obtain authority to handle your affairs.

Perhaps your greatest reason for hesitating is that you fear your POA agent will misuse the authority and take advantage of you. By law, your agent may act only in your best interests. However, your fear is not ungrounded. This is why it is critical that your choice of agents is not a sentimental one, but that you appoint an agent who has integrity and a clear commitment to his or her fiduciary duties.

Why do I need an attorney?

You may have noticed that there are numerous websites where you can download and complete power of attorney documents on your own. While this certainly seems more convenient than making an appointment with an attorney, there are some factors to consider that may make you wary of taking this route, for example:

  • Online POA documents will be too generic to comply with the laws of every state.
  • They may be outdated since state laws change frequently.
  • A generic POA may be too vague to hold up in court if someone contests its authority.
  • You may not know if a general POA or a limited POA is best for your situation.
  • An online document will not address your specific circumstances.

If you meet with a North Carolina attorney to discuss your power of attorney needs, you will be more likely to end up with a document that suits your situation and satisfies your concerns. You can custom draft your POA to grant or withhold whatever powers you wish, and your attorney can answer your questions about the potential consequences of your choices.