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Estate planning is important for everyone. An important legal document for an estate plan is a power of attorney, which is fairly easy to put in place. The Maryland resident who puts the power of attorney in place is called the principal, and the person who is appointed is called an agent or an attorney-in-fact. The agent should be someone who the principal trusts to make important decisions. The power of attorney can cover financial decisions, health care decisions or both, and the named agent must be at least 18 years old.

The power of attorney can be set up to begin at the onset of a mental incompetency or can begin immediately following the signing of the document. Even then, though, the principal may continue to act on his or her own behalf until he or she is no longer mentally able to do so. The agent may pay bills, make investments or make other financial decisions for the principal. In doing so, he or she must act responsibly, as he or she can be held liable if he or she acts negligently.

The agent must act in the principal's best interest, must act with the principal's wishes in mind and must protect the principal's assets. The agent may be financially compensated for these duties; however, it is not a requirement. The power of attorney will last until death, unless otherwise stated in the document itself. The agent should keep documentation of monies spent and received so that he or she can account for all transactions made on behalf of the principal.

Maryland residents who are considering putting a power of attorney in place can speak to an attorney who focuses on estate planning. These attorneys can help a principal make plans for his or her future and can guide him or her in the appointment of an agent. There are even times when a legal professional can be named as the agent for a principal who does not have close family members or friends who can take the position.

Source: journalnow.com, "Wells: Power of attorney basics", Mike Wells, March 1, 2015

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