Unmarried couples have a special need for powers of attorney. I will explain that bold and incredibly controversial statement here.
There are many types of powers of attorney. They all accomplish the same basic purpose – giving someone else the authority to take some action on your behalf. I will specifically address a general durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney. A general power of attorney authorizes another person (the agent) to handle your finances. A healthcare power of attorney authorizes another person (the agent) to make healthcare decisions for you. Healthcare powers of attorney frequently include a Living Will provision, which gives instructions for implementing or withholding certain medical care in some situations. Some powers of attorney are effective immediately and some are effective only if an individual is not capable of making his or her own financial or healthcare decisions.
For married individuals, their spouse is the default person to whom healthcare providers will turn to make medical decisions if necessary. And they are the default person to whom the court would turn if an individual needs a guardian to handle their finances.
For unmarried individuals, the court and healthcare providers would automatically turn to the individual’s closest relatives for those decisions. Those relatives may choose to include the unmarried individual’s significant other in decisions, but are not legally obligated to do so. Therefore, the significant other can be excluded from having any input into financial or medical decisions even if that’s what the individual would want to happen. The significant other could hypothetically pursue court action seeking to be named as guardian, but it would most likely be an expensive, time-consuming uphill battle with little chance of success in most instances.
Unmarried individuals can change this default scenario by executing powers of attorney authorizing their significant other to handle finances or make healthcare decisions. This is a big decision and should be undertaken only after careful consideration, since you are giving another person the authority to make important, potentially life-altering decisions for you. If you are confident that you want your significant other to make those decisions, you need to have validly executed powers of attorney.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, , Mechanicsburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss powers of attorney or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.