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A power of attorney protects your best interests

If something happens to you and you become incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions, don't you want to know that the person making choices on your behalf really has your best interests at heart?

Say you suffer a stroke. In the span of a few seconds, you can go from living an autonomous, independent life to needing someone else to make every decision on your behalf. You may not be able to communicate at all. You may need 24/7 care. And strokes are not the only issue; you also have to consider things like car accidents, dementia, heart attacks, slip and fall accidents and much more.

To prepare for this possibility in advance, you may want to use a power of attorney. This gives someone else the legal authority they need to make decisions for you. You can name that person in advance -- a spouse or an adult child, for instance -- so that you know you can trust them to put your interests first.

"A power of attorney is primarily used as a device for ensuring that your directives and decisions in your best interest are carried out," one expert noted. "Especially if you are no longer able to accomplish these objectives without assistance."

That power can apply to both legal decisions -- paying taxes, for instance, or accessing your bank account -- and healthcare decisions. Best of all, you can talk to the person when you set the paperwork up to make sure they know exactly what you want. Think of it as a backup plan and a way to give yourself peace of mind. Make sure you know exactly what steps to take to get started.

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