Did you know a Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal instrument that grants an individual the authority to act on behalf of another person in various matters, including financial and healthcare decisions? In the context of marriage, it’s 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 California, as in many other states, the concept of an “automatic” power of attorney for spouses is a misconception that needs clarification.

A 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 estate planning tool allows the agent to make decisions and take actions as outlined in the document, but it’s important to note that a power of attorney does not grant the agent the status of a co-owner or a spouse with automatic decision-making powers.

In California, 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. Without a power of attorney, a spouse has no inherent right to access or control the other spouse’s financial affairs.

An important planning consideration to be aware of as well also focuses on durability. You may have heard the term “durable” power of attorney. A 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.

To avoid potential complications and uncertainties, it’s essential for individuals to plan for the future by creating a comprehensive power of attorney with their experienced California 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.

In summary, a spouse does not automatically possess a power of attorney over their partner’s affairs solely due to marriage. It’s crucial for individuals to understand that a power of attorney is a separate legal document that must be established intentionally. By proactively creating the appropriate power of attorney documents with their California 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 power of attorney is a powerful and important tool to add to your estate planning arsenal. Do you have questions? We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Our office is here for you and your loved ones. Please call us to schedule a meeting time.