A power of attorney (POA) document is one of the most important legal tools that family caregivers must have to effectively manage their aging loved ones’ health care and/or finances. Without these documents, a caregiver (known as the agent) lacks the legal authority to handle important decisions on behalf of their elder (known as the principal).
Many families would prefer to avoid incurring legal fees in the preparation of these forms. While simple POA documents are relatively affordable as part of an estate planning package, there are a few free and low-cost options available as well.
How Much Does a POA Cost?
A durable power of attorney for finances or healthcare can be completed for little to no charge. Some states offer free fillable POA forms online or consumers can work with a local legal aid office to obtain a POA. There are also legal websites that sell POA templates for under $50.
In many states, these forms must be notarized in order to be enforceable. It is still advisable to have a POA document notarized even if the state does not require it. This will help ensure that all entities an agent must deal with (banks, insurance companies, etc.) will accept the document as valid.
If you choose to get a free POA form online or through a legal aid service, then the only costs you incur may be for notarization. Most states set maximum fee limits for basic notarial acts to keep prices reasonable. Fees range from $2 to $10 per signature and some notaries will come to clients who are hospitalized or otherwise unable to travel. There may be additional travel fees associated with notary visits.
Should I Hire a Lawyer to Draft My Power of Attorney?
While free or low-cost POA documents may suffice in uncomplicated situations, some circumstances require professional legal counsel. For example, if there is conflict over who should be appointed as the agent, or if the principal has a complicated financial situation, it might be wise to hire an elder law attorney or an estate planning attorney to draft this legal document. In addition to creating the document itself, a knowledgeable attorney can discuss how the document works, take their client’s concerns into consideration, explain what powers the agent can exercise, and ensure the verbiage in the document reflects the client’s wishes and is in line with current state laws.
In many cases, having an attorney prepare POA documents provides added peace of mind. Professional legal advice is invaluable when it comes to avoiding common mistakes and POA pitfalls. For example, family issues are the most common cause for POA disputes. Therefore, attorneys (myself included) don’t normally recommend naming multiple adult children on a POA document to share the role of agent for an aging parent. This is known as a joint power of attorney and can be highly problematic. With this type of POA, all agents must act jointly and come to agreement on each matter before any action can be taken. Sibling disagreements can quickly derail an aging parent’s care and finances.
A lawyer’s expertise is also helpful in tailoring a power of attorney to meet a client’s needs. For example, many basic POA templates and free forms use language that affords the appointed agent “general” powers over the principal’s medical care or finances. This is particularly important when drawing up a financial POA because it grants the agent legal authority over all financial decisions, including selling property, paying taxes, managing investments, Medicaid planning, paying for where the principal will live and deciding how their money will be spent. If a principal wants to place any limitations on their agent’s power, then an attorney will need to tailor the language in this document accordingly.
There is a great deal riding on the way in which a POA document is written, and there are several different kinds of powers of attorney. Some POAs go into effect immediately but end upon the principal’s incapacitation, some are only enforceable once the principal has been proven incompetent by a physician (a springing POA) and others remain valid regardless of the principal’s mental capacity (a durable power of attorney). A reputable elder law attorney can listen to a client’s concerns and desires and draw up the right legal documents for their unique situation. While this may cost more, it isn’t possible to get this kind of personalized legal advice and service when purchasing an affordable POA template online. An off-the-shelf POA form is better than nothing, but there are risks involved in taking this inexpensive approach.
While the costs may vary widely, attorneys often charge flat fees for individual legal documents like POAs. A consumer could probably expect to pay a lawyer less than $200 for a POA in most cities. Many also offer reasonably priced estate planning packages that include a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a living will and a last will and testament. All these documents are important for ensuring an elder’s wishes are respected and their affairs are taken care of both in life and after their passing.
It’s best to get these documents in place sooner rather than later. If you’re considering hiring an attorney to prepare legal documents, use the Elder Law Attorney Directory to find one near you. Your local bar association can also help you find pro bono legal options in your area. Most legal professionals offer free consultations where you can explain your situation, discuss your needs, ask questions, learn about pricing options and determine if an attorney is a good fit.