Potential clients often approach me about what arrangements, if any, can be made to grant their cohabiting partner the authority to make financial decisions for him or her. Sometimes, they are surprised to hear that they have the same options as the members of a married couple.
Any individual over the age of eighteen years can execute a document called a Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney enables the person who has executed the document (called the “principal”) to name any other person who is also over the age of eighteen years (called the “agent”) to make financial decisions for the principal. In this way, just as a wife can name her husband as her agent, a woman can name her cohabiting partner as her agent.
Before you execute a Power of Attorney in favor of another person, you should speak with an estate planning attorney, as there are different types of powers of attorney which become effective under different conditions. For instance, a Durable General Power of Attorney confers authority on the agent as soon as the Power is signed by the principal and delivered to the agent. A Contingent Power of Attorney, on the other hand, does not confer authority on the agent until the principal has been declared to be incapable of making decisions for him- or herself. Regardless of which type you choose, it is incredibly important to name someone you trust (and who has good financial sense, or at least enough sense to find a professional who has good financial sense) as your agent.