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What is a 'power of attorney?'

As adults, most of us make our own decisions about where we live, how we spend our money and when it is time to go to the doctor. But someday, illness, age or disability may leave us unable to continue to keep full control of our lives.

Rather than forcing someone with reduced capacity to make important health care, financial and housing decisions, the law allows us to act now to appoint someone to make those decisions for us, in case we cannot in the future.

This is called power of attorney, and there are two main ways someone can act on an incapacitated person’s behalf. One is called a health care power or attorney, or health care proxy. As the name implies, this form of power of attorney empowers the person chosen to make medical decisions on your behalf. This can be especially useful if you are ever incapacitated in a medical emergency, and there is not enough time to wait to see what your wishes are.

You may also designate a financial power of attorney. If you are ever unable to do so, this person will handle your financial matters, such as paying your bills and debts. He or she may also take care of real estate matters, like selling your home.

Florida law allows residents to name one person to serve as both types of power of attorney, or you can split the duties between two people. Choosing whom to name as your power of attorney is very personal. Who would you trust to make these important decisions on your behalf? Those having trouble making this choice may wish to consult with their estate planning attorney.

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