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Ask the Expert: Keep your power-of-attorney up to date

Do powers-of-attorney expire? My friend was recently told she needed a new one since hers was over 10 years old. How about health proxies?

A valid power-of-attorney or health care proxy executed on an old form remains valid even if the form doesn't reflect recent changes in the law.

Nevertheless, it's a good idea to make sure a 10-year-old POA still addresses all your needs.

For readers who don't know, in a POA, you authorize another person to act for you in financial and legal matters. (An ordinary POA expires if you become incapacitated — exactly when you most need it. You need a "durable" POA, which expires only at your death.) In a health care proxy, you authorize another person to make your medical decisions if you're unable to state your wishes. Like your will, POAs and health care proxies are revocable; you can cancel them.

These documents can be essential in a family crisis. If your mother is under sedation in a hospital, for example, the hospital staff will want to see her health care proxy before discussing her condition with you. And you'll need her durable POA to check her account balances and pay her bills.

"It's good to have an attorney periodically review your documents to confirm they're up to date with current law and current practical uses," says Esther Schwartz Zelmanovitz, a Great Neck elder law attorney. Lawyers often customize standard POA forms, for example by adding language that specifically gives your representative access to your digital assets or safe deposit box. Another frequent change: adding language that ensures your representative will meet the requirements to make Medicaid-related financial decisions for you if necessary.

The bottom line

It's sensible to make sure your legal documents remain up-to-date.

More information

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747, or email Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.


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