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Power of Attorney and Your Rights

People creating an estate plan in North Carolina will create at least one power of attorney. Through these important documents you can give someone else the ability to make decisions on your behalf. Whether those decisions are financial, involve health care decisions, or encompass any other issue, you need to know how these documents affect you and your rights. Here are some common questions many people have about power of attorneys.

Who can make a power of attorney in North Carolina?

Almost anyone. As long as you are at least 18 years old and are of sound mind, you can give others the right to represent your interests. A person who makes a power of attorney, called a principal, can choose to grant decision-making authority to others, called agents or attorneys-in-fact, at any time. However, you must grant power of attorney through a written document that complies with North Carolina law.

Will I lose my rights if I give power of attorney to someone else?

No. When you create a power of attorney you delegate some of your decision-making authority to your agent. Your agent will be able to make decisions for you, but only to the extent that you allow. You are never legally required to create a power of attorney. Further, as long as you remain mentally capable, you also have the ability to terminate the agent’s decision-making authority at any time.

What rights do I give my agent?

That’s entirely up to you. The power of attorney document you choose to create can be as limited as you wish. You can, for example, give an agent only very limited authority to act in specific situations, during certain time periods, or under the limitations of any other restrictions you deem appropriate.

What if I lose my ability to revoke the powers?

Unless you specify otherwise, the power of attorney you grant your agent will terminate automatically should you lose your ability to revoke the document. This essentially means that should you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions, or your agent also loses the ability to make decisions for you.

I’m worried that my agent might abuse the authority I give. How can I be sure my agent will act in my best interests?

You can never truly control someone else’s actions, but there are protections afforded to you under the law if an agent under a power of attorney misbehaves. Agents are fiduciaries. A fiduciary is someone who owes a heightened legal responsibility to a principal. If the agent misuses his or her authority, the law allows for civil, and even criminal, penalties against the agent.

In short, agents face serious consequences if they misuse their authority.

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