Before you hit the elliptical machine, make a resolution to get your legal documents in shape, recommends local judge Gerald A. Williams.

Legally Fit shutterstock_212792899

Before you hit the elliptical machine, make a resolution to get your legal documents in shape, recommends local judge Gerald A. Williams.

People who care about their personal fitness hate going to the gym in January. They know it will be crowded until after Valentine’s Day. Why? Almost everyone starts a new year with the intention of getting in shape. However, a new year is a good time to make sure your legal documents are in shape as well!

The first document everyone should have is an updated will. A will does just what you think it will do—it allows you to distribute your property in the event of your death. Some important things like life insurance pass outside your will, so if you still have a former spouse designated as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, you might want to change that.

Another type of important legal document is a power of attorney. There are different types that serve different purposes. There are special powers of attorney that are designed to do only one thing such as pay taxes, purchase real estate, or even temporarily take care of your children.

A general power of attorney also allows someone to sign legal documents on your behalf; but it is not limited by a specific topic or task. If it’s also a durable power of attorney, then it can be valid as long as you are alive. It even remains effective if you develop some type of mental-status problem and are no longer able to manage your finances.

A general durable power of attorney is the most powerful legal document you can sign. It can allow someone else to pay bills, to incur debt, and to purchase and sell property––all in your name. They can be a great legal tool as long as you genuinely trust the person that you name as your agent.

A third type of document is called an advance directive. These allow you to document your thoughts on your medical care and treatment. The most well-known type of advance directive is the somewhat misnamed living will. It allows you to declare that if you have a terminal medical condition, you do not want any additional medical procedures if they would only artificially delay the moment of your death. A sample living will is in our state’s statutes at A.R.S. § 36-3262.

Another type of advance directive is a health care power of attorney. This allows you to give someone else the right to give or to refuse consent to your medical care, including all surgical and hospital-related care. A sample health care power of attorney is available at A.R.S. § 36-3224. There’s also a perhaps even more potentially dangerous power of attorney. It allows you to delegate someone else to have control over the care of your mental health needs.

Almost every adult should have a will and an advance directive. Getting a power of attorney can also be a good idea, but don’t get one just to have one. Get one if you think you may need one.

There Are Some Things a Power of Attorney Doesn’t Do

Nearly every week, someone will come into my courtroom, attempt to speak on behalf of someone else, and proudly declare that they have a power of attorney that allows them to do so. They are mistaken.

A power of attorney allows you to sign documents. It does not make you an attorney. Otherwise, I could have saved a lot of money and skipped law school. And yes, generally the only people authorized to speak on behalf of someone else in a courtroom are lawyers.

Every week, I determine whether individuals should have judgments entered against them, be evicted from their residences, be found responsible for civil traffic violations, or be found guilty of committing a crime. In cases where representation is appropriate, it really is best to have someone with both a law degree and an active law license to represent parties in civil and criminal cases. The stakes are often very high.

Another thing a power of attorney does not do is survive your death. This makes sense if you think about it. A power of attorney allows someone else to sign documents for you, and you can’t do that after you die.

© 2018 85086 Magazine. A Division of Strickbine Publishing Inc.

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