Is a DIY Will or Power of Attorney a Good Idea? Rarely

Person signing a document

It all seems so simple. You want to name a medical power of attorney, and a quick Google search provides everything you need. Or does it? All you need to do is print out a form, fill it out and sign it. The same goes for a durable power of attorney and wills. Right? Not so fast.

These seemingly simple documents hold a lot of power. When executed improperly, they can strip you of rights or misdirect assets without you even knowing it.

Wills and powers of attorney are especially important in times of crisis

In today’s uncertain coronavirus times, with the threat of COVID-19 looming large, we understand that people in our community are going through a tough time right now. Nobody knows what’s around the corner, and many people are struggling to figure out how to plan for the future.

From a legal perspective, it’s always important to prepare yourself, your family and your estate for the unexpected. Medical and durable powers of attorney and wills should be a priority for any individual who wants their wishes followed if they become incapacitated or pass away.

Visit our COVID-19 Resources page for updates on family law legal topics and government mandates related to the coronavirus in Tarrant County.

What is the purpose of medical and durable powers of attorney?

The purpose of a medical power of attorney in Texas is to designate a loved one or other trusted party to make decisions regarding your medical care in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes. Your doctor will need to certify you as unable to communicate before that designee can make medical decisions on your behalf.

A durable power of attorney is a document that designates a trusted person to legally make decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated. These decisions typically involve taking care of financial concerns (handling bills, investments, etc.) and may include directing your medical care.

It’s important to note that the term “incapacitated” is anything but specific. Different courts view the term in different ways (i.e., you can’t conduct normal business or you can’t speak or you can’t function as a human, etc.), so it’s essential to clarify what YOU view as incapacitated in your power of attorney documents.

Should you tackle a will or power of attorney on your own?

Honestly, if you have few to no assets an online DIY will may work just fine for you. Where people get into trouble with online wills and powers of attorneys is when they mistakenly assume those documents are truly one-size-fits-all solutions. They are NOT.

What you DO NOT know about these legal documents is what can hurt you (or your family or estate) in the end. That’s why it’s essential to meet with an attorney to discuss your wishes, get clear on your rights, clarify what powers are granted to your will executor or the person designated to direct your powers of attorney (POA) and more.

Learn how to navigate child custody and visitation during the coronavirus pandemic here.

Why you need a second set of eyes—an attorney—to facilitate wills and POAs

Many people understand the generalities involved with legal documents but not the specifics. For example, an online power of attorney (POA) may include a series of directives you can yay or nay, just check a box. What you probably don’t know (and most people do not) is that each directive comes with a subset of powers beneath them.

For example (and this is just one of MANY), when you designate someone to handle your financial decisions, you can enumerate whether that includes your retirement accounts or not. Online POAs don’t get down and dirty like that.

Medical and durable powers of attorney also include provisions that allow for compensation for the designee empowered to make decisions on your behalf. Unfortunately, online POAs are often very general and loose in defining how that person should be compensated and what type of expenses (if any) would be covered. That means they can pay themselves with your money at their discretion, which could be disastrous.

In regard to wills, it’s also a wise idea to prepare a will with an attorney to make sure all of your bases covered (unless you have few to no assets). If you die and don’t have a valid will—known as intestate succession—your estate will end up in probate and the state will decide who receives your assets.

Even if you’re OK with that, it’s important to know that many assets exist outside of probate. For example, beneficiaries on your financial accounts (bank, retirement, insurance, etc.) don’t fall under probate. A knowledgeable attorney can help you review your assets, explain your options and prepare your will so it stands up in court.

How the Sisemore Law Firm can help

If you need a medical or durable power of attorney or a simple will in Tarrant County, our team can walk you through the process step-by-step. We’ll explain what things you need to include in your legal documents and what you need to take out.

From a paperwork perspective, our team can also prepare and file the documents so they comply with Texas law. For the sake of social distancing, we can also provide consultations via videoconference and have an e-notary (mobile notary) on staff, so you don’t need to physically come to our office while stay-at-home orders are in place.

If you need help preparing and filing a medical or durable power of attorney or simple will in Tarrant County, our team is here to help. To schedule a consultation with an attorney at our firm, you can contact our office by phone at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.

Photo Source: Matthias Zomer from Pexels