For many people, a durable power of attorney (“DPA”) is the best protection against the consequences of becoming disabled. A DPA is a document in which one person (the principal) gives legal authority to another person (the agent) to act on the principal’s behalf. It terminates at your death or cancellation (you can cancel it at any time), or at a time you specify.
The DPA lets you appoint an agent (usually your spouse or child) to manage all or part of your business or personal affairs. The law does impose the responsibility on the agent to act as your fiduciary, but it might be difficult for you or you family to take him or her to court, and since this person can in effect do anything with your money, you should be sure to appoint someone you trust and in whose judgment and ability you have confidence.
This power of attorney is used to deal with health care planning. It allows you to appoint someone else to make health care decisions for you–including, if you wish, the decision to refuse intravenous feeding or turn off the respirator if you’re brain-dead–if you become incapable of making that decision. The form can be used to make decisions about things like nursing homes, surgeries, and artificial feeding.
Finally, you and your spouse should have a will nominating personal guardians for your child, in case you both should die before she grows up. Otherwise, a court will decide without your input where she will live and who will make important decisions about her money, education, and way of life.