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New law calls for review of Florida powers of attorney

In light of changes to Florida's probate law that took effect last October, West Palm Beach residents may want to consider a review of their estate plans. The changes provide some clarification about certain issues and implement new rules affecting the operation of powers of attorney.

The power of attorney usually works in conjunction with a living will and healthcare directives. These documents provide instructions for end-of-life care and grant trusted agents the authority to make medical and financial decisions for a person in a state of incapacity. Last year's law changes will have no effect on the operation of any power of attorney executed prior to October 1, 2011, but some Floridians may want to draw up a new power of attorney in order to take advantage of the recent changes.

One of the major alterations eliminates the so-called "springing power of attorney." A springing power of attorney only takes effect when the principal becomes incapacitated and unable to make informed, independent financial decisions. Under the new laws, a power of attorney takes effect immediately upon execution. The agent can begin to exercise authority as soon as the document is signed, even if the agent has not received a copy of the power of attorney.

The new law means that it is now more important than ever to make sure that one's financial agent is trustworthy, but it also avoids gaps in financial management that may happen while awaiting an official determination of incapacity.

Another important change affects the decision-making process when a power of attorney nominates more than one agent. Under the original law, co-attorneys had to agree before making decisions. Under the new law, each attorney can act independently. Some Floridians may benefit from the flexibility of having more than one authorized financial agent.

The new law only affects powers of attorney executed after the law took effect. People who are happy with the old rules will probably not want to change anything, but a good understanding of the new laws can help avoid missing out on new opportunities.

Source: The Destin Log, "COLUMN: Power of attorney details important in estate planning," Scott Clines, Aug. 3, 2012

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