When planning your estate in Pennsylvania, a living will is an essential tool to plan decisions about your health care and finances. But even a living will cannot anticipate all of the situations that may arise. For that reason, it is a good idea to also establish a power of attorney to act on your behalf.

Under Pennsylvania law, a power of attorney generally is not able to override the decisions you make in your living will, so these tools work together harmoniously.

Durable vs nondurable

Durable POAs are contracts that give an agent control over your affairs for the foreseeable future. They may take effect as soon as you create them, or you may specify in the contract that it becomes effective upon a certain date or after a certain event — such as incapacitation.

Likewise, nondurable POA contracts contain a specified end date or end condition. Pennsylvania law assumes that POAs are durable unless they state otherwise.

In either of these contracts, your agent has license to act with all of your legal authority, as if he or she were you.

Health care and financial POAs

You have the right to specify which actions this person can take on your behalf and which they cannot, and you may modify these actions or terminate the agreement at any time in most cases. Be careful to give clear notice to the agent and follow legal advice when modifying or terminating a POA to ensure that you are doing so properly.

Powers of attorney are great tools for both health care and financial decisions. While some states require the principal to complete separate agreements for each, in Pennsylvania, you may create one document and list all powers you would like to grant to the agent. These powers should be clear and specific, as there are certain duties that agents receive by default unless you dictate otherwise, and other duties you must explicitly enumerate to grant.