There may come a time when you or your loved one will no longer be able to manage day-to-day affairs. And it is truly crucial that you plan for this day. In general, incapacitation or loss of ability to handle one’s own financial or legal matters is dealt with in one of two ways: a guardianship or assignment of power of attorney. While these terms are sometimes used in a similar context, guardianships and powers of attorney are actually two entirely different things. Here, our experienced elder law attorneys in Tacoma offer a concise explanation of the important differences.  

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a voluntary delegation of rights by one party to another party. Essentially, this power gives one party the legal authority to act as the agent/representative in a limited set of circumstances. To ensure that your power of attorney is valid, it must conform to the legal requirements found in Washington’s Uniform Power of Attorney Act (Chapter 11.125 RCW).

Often, powers of attorney are established on a conditional basis. This means that the power of attorney only becomes active when the party who assigned the authority actually becomes incapacitated. Notably, a power of attorney is a legal document that does not have to be filed with a Washington court. A Tacoma elder law lawyer can help you set up a power of attorney today.

What is a Guardianship?

With a guardianship, a Washington court must authorize one person (the guardian) to act on behalf of a person who is no longer able to do so (the ward). Once in place, the guardian will have legal power to make key financial decisions on behalf of the ward. Washington state has a specific statute that controls guardianships (Chapter 11.88 RCW). To be clear, guardianships are always imposed or approved by a court.

Guardianship or Power of Attorney: Which One Is Right for Me?

When in place, a person with power of attorney can perform a similar role to a person who has been appointed as a guardian. Overall, the power of attorney is also far more flexible, and the powers that have been granted can be restricted or individualized. The key difference to keep in mind is that powers of attorney are voluntarily assigned in private whereas a guardianship is established by a court in a public proceeding.

Which one is better? In general, the are many advantages to setting up a power of attorney: it is less expensive, more flexible, allows for full privacy, and can more easily be revoked. That being said, a person must be mentally competent to be able to set up a power of attorney. This is important because a person who is already incapacitated but has not already executed a power of attorney will be not eligible to do so. In these cases, a court-appointed guardianship may be necessary.

Get Help From a Tacoma Elder Law Attorney Today

At the Alliance Law Group, we understand how important our elder law issues are to our clients. Our law firm is committed to offering effective, trustworthy legal representation. For help with guardianships, powers of attorney, or any other elder law issue, please do not hesitate to contact our legal team. With an office in University Place, we handle Washington elder law matters in Tacoma and throughout the surrounding communities.