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The differences between guardianship and power of attorney

Many people know how important it is to designate someone to make medical and legal decisions for them in their old age or if they should otherwise become unable to do so. However, there is more than one way to accomplish this and people may not know exactly what choice is the best for them. One way is to establish guardianship and another is to designate someone as a power of attorney. Families in Massachusetts may not know the differences between the two, so here is an overview of each option.

First, a health care or medical power of attorney designates someone to make medical choices for a person who cannot. It may also outline exact medical choices that a person wants or does not want in relation to end of life care, although Massachusetts is one of a few states that do not recognize living wills as binding legally. A general durable power of attorney is slightly different in that it gives the designated person the ability to make legal and financial choices on the principal's behalf, and it is not invalidated should the principal subsequently become disabled or incapacitated.

A guardianship is different because it is used when a court determines that a person cannot make his or her own decisions about money or medical care. Guardians also have to disclose every action they take to the court. If a person is unable to designate a power of attorney because he or she does not have the proper mental faculties to understand it, a court may decide to appoint a guardian. Having one in place already may ease a family's mind during what could be a stressful time.

Whether a family decides to use power of attorney or guardianship, the most important thing is to ensure that loved ones are given proper care. Massachusetts families may want to consult an estate planning attorney to determine what options are available and to determine which option may be best suited to their situation. Taking the time to plan for the future can give everyone involved peace of mind.

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