Are you contemplating creating a power of attorney? Do you know what this legal document can do for you? A power of attorney (POA) is a legal instrument that grants an individual the authority to act on behalf of another individual in various matters, including financial and healthcare decisions. Now when it comes to marriage, it is common for couples to wonder whether a spouse is automatically granted a power of attorney over the other spouse’s affairs or if they have to complete legal planning. In Wisconsin, as in many other states, the concept of an “automatic” power of attorney for spouses is a misconception that needs clarification.

As stated above, a Wisconsin power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes one person to act on behalf of another person. The person who is acting is usually referred to as the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact” while the person creating the document is the “principal.” This authority can be broad or limited, covering financial, legal, healthcare, and other specific matters. This Wisconsin estate planning tool allows the agent to make decisions and take actions as outlined in the document, but it is important to note that a Wisconsin power of attorney does not grant the agent the status of a co-owner or more importantly, the spouse with automatic decision-making powers.

Be aware that in Wisconsin, marriage itself does not automatically confer power of attorney rights upon a spouse. While marriage does establish a legal relationship with certain inherent rights and responsibilities, it does not grant automatic authority over the financial and healthcare decisions of a spouse. Spouses who wish to have this authority must explicitly create a power of attorney document.

This becomes especially important if you want your spouse to be able to have the authority to manage financial matters on your behalf. These financial tasks can include, but not be limited to, tasks such as handling bank accounts, paying bills, managing investments, and even selling property. Be mindful that without a power of attorney, a spouse has no inherent right to access or control the other spouse’s financial affairs.

All the above being said, another important planning consideration focuses on durability. Have you heard the term “durable” power of attorney?  A Wisconsin durable power of attorney remains valid even if the principal becomes incapacitated. It is particularly important for situations where the principal may be unable to make decisions due to illness, incapacity, or injury.

Are you researching ways to avoid potential complications and uncertainties in the future? Then it is essential for you to plan for the future by creating a comprehensive Wisconsin power of attorney with your experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney. This is especially important for spouses who want to ensure that their partner can act on their behalf if the need arises. Waiting until a crisis occurs could lead to legal and logistical challenges as one must have capacity to create this document, making an already difficult situation even more stressful.

To summarize, a spouse does not automatically possess a power of attorney over their partner’s affairs solely due to marriage. It is crucial for individuals to understand that the Wisconsin power of attorney is a separate legal document that must be established intentionally. By proactively creating the appropriate power of attorney documents with their experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney, couples can ensure they are prepared for unforeseen circumstances and that their wishes will be respected and carried out by their chosen agent.

Your Wisconsin durable power of attorney is a powerful and important tool to add to your Wisconsin estate planning arsenal. We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. We want to help you protect your aging relatives. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting with attorney Alan Hougum today.