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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2003

Boomers advised to grant power of attorney

By Lisa Singhania
Associated Press

NEW YORK — At age 42, Mark Lemont is looking forward to a long, healthy life with his wife and daughter. But, should he become seriously ill or disabled, he's prepared: He and his wife have determined who would handle their financial and healthcare decisions in case they are no longer able to do so.

"It's just not something that's pleasant to deal with," said Lemont, a musician in Toledo, Ohio. "But I think if you have kids, it's just part of that parental responsibility. You've just got to do it."

Financial planners say that, as the oldest baby boomers head into their late 50s, all boomers must think about how they want their affairs handled in the event they are unable to make decisions themselves. In most cases, that means giving another person what is called power of attorney, or durable power of attorney, over your affairs.

"Power of attorney is a flexible, easy, convenient document in which you, the principal, select a person you want, called the agent, to take care of your business affairs should you become incapacitated or disabled," said Sally Hume, a lawyer with AARP's consumer protection division.

Regardless of how you structure your power of attorney, experts recommend giving it to someone who shares your values and that you trust in any circumstance. It can be a relative or friend.

It's also important to note that spouses do not have power of attorney over each other automatically. Legal documents are needed, Hume said. She advises having a backup power of attorney, in case the person you appoint cannot serve.

No one ever knows when they're going to be struck by debilitating illness or be in a serious car accident. Even if you were only in a coma for a few weeks, someone would need to be able to pay bills and make other informed decisions concerning your affairs.

Don't skimp on the quality of the legal documents you draw up to cement the relationship, either. Although software and do-it-yourself legal workbooks may suffice in some cases, Hume generally recommends going to a lawyer for advice.

"Because there is such a potential for misunderstanding by both the principal and agent as to what power of attorney, it's always wise to talk to a lawyer," she said.