Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to plan for this very human uncertainty – the power of attorney – which is a written document that says what would happen if you were unable to make your own decisions. In California, there are two main types of powers of attorney – a power of attorney for finances and a power of attorney for health care. Both documents authorize another person (called an “agent”) to take care of personal matters on behalf of the person who creates the power (called the “principal”) in case the principal is unable or unavailable to do so.
1. Power of Attorney for Finances. A power of attorney for finances authorizes your agent to transact personal financial business in case you cannot. You can decide how much (or how little) access to grant your agent under a power of attorney for finances. You can give the agent broad, general powers allowing them to sign any kind of document and have the same access to financial accounts you have. Or you can grant your agent limited, transaction-specific powers, such as paying a specific bill or signing that year’s tax returns. You also get to decide when the power of attorney for finances takes effect – immediately when you sign it, or only after specific things happen, such as a note from your primary care doctor certifying that you are unable to make your own financial decisions. Whether you need an agent on standby for a few hours during surgery or for several years while you are working abroad, a power of attorney for finances can ensure seamless management of your finances when you are unavailable.
2. Power of Attorney for Health Care (aka Health Care Proxy, Health Care Directive, or “Living Will”). A health care power of attorney allows your agent to make medical decisions if you are not able. These decisions include consenting, refusing or withdrawing consent to any medical treatment, procedures or services; choosing a physician or medical facility, and deciding who can receive medical information. The health care power of attorney may also contain provisions that specify your wishes about medical care in life-or-death situations, including instructions about life support, feeding tubes and blood transfusions, and may also specify organ donation and burial instructions, for the worst-case scenario. Do not wait until you are hospitalized to find out who will be able to make urgent medial decisions or discuss treatment options for you. A power of attorney for health care provides you peace of mind that your medical decisions will be made the same way you would.
You do not need an actual attorney to draft your power of attorney in California. There are many DIY resources online, and we have developed a California Power of Attorney Worksheet to help you gather the information you need for either type of document. To be valid in California, state law requires that the documents include language specified in the California Probate Code (Section 4401 for a power of attorney for finances and Section 4701 for an advanced health care directive).
Once your powers of attorney are fully signed, and witnessed or notarized, as required (additional requirements apply when the principal is a nursing home resident), they should be scanned and saved on your and your agent’s smartphones so these important documents can be accessed in a moment’s notice. The original documents should be kept in a safe but accessible place, such as a safe deposit box or fireproof cabinet or safe. We recommend making at least 3 hard copies – give 1 copy to your named agent to have when needed. For a power of attorney for health care, you should give 1 copy to your doctor to keep on file and provide a copy to the medical facility where any procedure will take place. It is also wise to keep a list of the people you have given copies to, so if you change or cancel the power of attorney, it will be easy to provide updated copies. A power of attorney does not have to be registered or recorded in the public records to be effective but there are times, such as during real estate transactions, when it is necessary or advisable to record a power of attorney for finances.
We have prepared hundreds of powers of attorney for our clients. If you are a California resident who is at least 18 years old and you are looking for a qualified attorney to prepare your powers of attorney, we invite you to click the button below to schedule a call with our power of attorney intake specialist.