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The Principal 

The person who signs a Durable Power of Attorney (“DPA”) is called “the Principal.” In the DPA, the Principal names the person who can sign legal documents (e.g., checks, deeds, contracts, and all other legal documents), should the Principal lose the ability to know what he or she is signing. If no DPA is signed before a loss of mental capacity, a conservatorship proceeding must be filed in probate court.

A conservatorship proceeding in probate court is expensive, time consuming, and stressful. The spouse, child, family member, or neighbor, etc. (“the Petitioner”) must file a petition in probate court seeking to become conservator of the person who is unable to sign legal documents. A physician must sign a certificate stating that the person lacks sufficient mental capacity to make legal decisions. The Petitioner must go to court at the beginning of the conservatorship and then file annual accountings with the probate court. These accountings must be reviewed by a Guardian Ad Litem (a court appointed attorney who reviews accountings filed with the court) and approved by the judge.

It is important that everybody 18 and older sign a Durable Power of Attorney to avoid this mess.