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What is a power of attorney in Washington estate planning?

Residents of Vancouver may have heard of a power of attorney, perhaps due to dealing with a relative's difficult medical or financial situation, or perhaps just in a general way. However, many people may not be clear on exactly how these documents are used, why they may be important, or what they need to contain. In estate planning circles, powers of attorney are a crucial tool in executing the intent of an individual.

Generally speaking, a power of attorney is used to give another person legal control over one's affairs in the event that one is no longer able to deal with them oneself. The person appointed in a durable power of attorney is often called the appointer's attorney-in-fact or agent. This individual is normally given the ability to conduct financial business on behalf of the appointing person, including cashing checks, collecting debts, running a business, and pursuing lawsuits. In Washington state, a durable power of attorney can also give the agent the ability to make medical decisions on behalf of the appointer if the appointer cannot make them him- or herself.

It is important to understand that the power of attorney is a legal document that must meet certain requirements to be valid. First of all, a power of attorney cannot be oral; it must be in writing. Further, the document must contain certain language that evidences the testator's intent to confer the powers specified in the power of attorney to the appointed agent, notwithstanding the testator's incapacity.

Most powers of attorney are durable in that once invoked, they remain in force until rescinded by the appointer or some form of court order. It should be understood that while the power of attorney is a versatile estate planning tool, to determine the best way to use it, residents may wish to consider consulting an experienced Washington attorney.