July 6, 2011

Illinois Updates Power of Attorney Act: Time for you to update, too

By Melissa L. Uzzell
Attorney At Law
Snyder Park Nelson & Schwiebert PC

Power Of Attorney (POA) – the basis for the authority caregivers have in decision-making regarding the life of a loved one or friend – is changing in Illinois.

Simply put, a Power of Attorney allows for a trusted friend or relative to handle your medical and business affairs when you are unable to do so by delegating specific legal authority when pre-defined conditions arise. Changes to the Illinois Power of Attorney Act, which was revised in July 2010, take effect July 1. Pre-existing or valid POA agreements from other jurisdictions will still be recognized.

These changes, the most sweeping revisions to POA in Illinois since originally enacted in 1987, respond specifically to the call by many for better oversight and transparency of agents to prevent elder abuse by those charged with their care.

The main goals of the Illinois revisions are to make POA forms more user-friendly and to give the creator of the arrangement stronger protection from financial and physical abuse. While many of the revisions are technical in nature, of note is the stronger limit of liability of health care providers and financial institutions that rely on POA documents in order to encourage the uniform acceptance of these agreements.

Other portions of the legislation cover standards of care while strengthening oversight of the caregiver. It also expands remedies against those who abuse their fiduciary responsibilities. In addition, there are changes to the process of witnessing the creation of a POA which limit who may act as a witness to avoid conflicts of interest.

Finally, these rules now reflect the current movement for stronger privacy laws, especially in the healthcare setting, and also incorporates recent improvements to the Disposition of Remains Act.

As a practitioner in the area of Elder Law, I see many clients that are facing changes in the health of a spouse, parent or relative. Shortcomings in a POA are exposed by sudden changes unless caregivers and their loved ones take time to review their arrangements. A clear, up-to-date plan can help keep these events from becoming a crisis.

When I represent clients during the creation of a POA, every effort is made to visit the scenarios that could occur during the life of the agreement. But, to prevent an emergency from exacting an
emotional or financial toll for the relative or friend, caregivers, and anyone else involved, take steps to have a current POA no matter what age you are.

Illinois lawmakers saw fit to bring long-overdue adjustments to this process. That’s a cue for all people, young and old, to review these important life documents if they already have them or create them if they don’t .

Melissa L. Uzzell, Attorney at Law, practices at Snyder Park Nelson & Schwiebert PC in Rock Island, IL. She focuses on Elder Law & Long-Term Care Planning, Disability Planning, Estate Planning and Veterans Affairs benefits. She is also a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).