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Incapacitation and powers of attorney

Estate planning is more than just providing for the distribution of property after death. Powers of attorney are an integral part of an estate plan since they determine who will act on a Massachusetts resident's behalf if he or she becomes incapacitated. Choosing the right people to make these decisions is crucial.

Advance directives advise medical personnel of an individual's wishes regarding health care when they are unable to voice them. However, this document might not be sufficient on its own. Therefore, it is also a good idea to execute a health care power of attorney, which appoints someone else to make medical decisions on that person's behalf when needed. At the very least, the agent should have an understanding of what the individual would want under a variety of medical circumstances.

When a person is incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to make decisions, a power of attorney can give another party the right to make financial decisions for the incapacitated individual. This document can allow the agent to make decisions regarding all assets and liabilities, or it can be limited to only certain financial decisions. It can take effect immediately unless its use is contingent upon being declared incapacitated by medical professionals.

The most important decision that a Massachusetts resident will need to make when creating powers of attorney for health care and/or finances is who the agent will be. The person or persons appointed need to be one or more people who the individual trusts to carry out his or her wishes. After all, the agent could be making life and death decisions on the individual's behalf.

Source: fidelity.com, "Choosing an Executor of a Will, Health Care Proxy, & Others", Accessed on July 22, 2016

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