Exploring Alternatives to Power of Attorney for Incapacitated Individuals

Yollette Atkinson June 4, 2024

Introduction to Maryland Power of Attorney Alternatives

When facing the possibility of incapacitation due to illness, accident, or aging, it's essential to plan ahead. Many people are familiar with the concept of a power of attorney (POA), where someone else is granted the authority to make decisions on your behalf. However, POAs might not be suitable for everyone or every situation. In this article, we'll delve into alternative options for individuals facing incapacitation and exploring various legal instruments and strategies that can provide support and safeguard their interests.

Guardianship or Conservatorship

Guardianship or conservatorship involves a court-appointed individual (a guardian or conservator) who assumes legal responsibility for making decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person, known as the ward. Unlike a power of attorney, which is voluntarily granted by the individual, guardianship or conservatorship is imposed by the court when someone is deemed unable to make decisions for themselves.

Pros: Provides a high level of protection for the incapacitated person, as decisions are made under court supervision. Guardians or conservators are typically required to report regularly to the court, ensuring transparency and accountability.

Cons: The process can be time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally taxing. Additionally, the incapacitated person may lose some autonomy, as decisions are ultimately made by the court or the appointed guardian/conservator.

Living Trust

A living trust is a legal arrangement where assets are transferred to a trustee to manage on behalf of the trust's beneficiaries, including the individual who created the trust. If the trust creator becomes incapacitated, the successor trustee steps in to manage the trust assets and make financial decisions.

Pros: Provides continuity of management if the trust creator becomes incapacitated. Avoids the need for court intervention in managing assets, as the trust document specifies the successor trustee's authority.

Cons: Requires the creation and funding of a trust, which can involve upfront costs and ongoing administrative tasks. Assets not transferred to the trust may still require a power of attorney or other arrangements for management.

Advance Directives

Advance directives are legal documents that allow individuals to specify their preferences regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care in the event they become incapacitated and unable to communicate their wishes. These documents typically include a living will and a healthcare proxy or durable power of attorney for healthcare.

Pros: Empowers individuals to make decisions about their medical care and treatment preferences in advance. Provides clarity for healthcare providers and family members regarding the individual's wishes.

Cons: Limited to healthcare-related decisions and does not address financial or legal matters. May not cover all possible scenarios or adequately address changing circumstances over time.

Joint Ownership and Designated Beneficiaries

Another option to consider is joint ownership of assets and designating beneficiaries for financial accounts, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. In the event of incapacitation or death, joint owners or designated beneficiaries gain immediate access to the assets without the need for probate or court intervention.

Pros: Simplifies the transfer of assets and avoids the probate process, which can be time- consuming and expensive. Provides a straightforward mechanism for asset distribution.

Cons: Joint ownership may lead to conflicts or unintended consequences, particularly if the co-owner's interests diverge from those of the incapacitated individual or their beneficiaries. Designated beneficiaries may not have the legal authority to manage assets beyond their distribution.


Planning for incapacitation is a crucial aspect of comprehensive estate planning. While a power of attorney is a common tool for delegating decision-making authority, it's essential to explore alternative options that align with your preferences and circumstances. Whether through guardianship, living trusts, advance directives, or joint ownership arrangements, individuals can take proactive steps to ensure their interests are protected and their wishes are respected during periods of incapacity. Consulting with legal and financial professionals can help you navigate these options and develop a plan that provides peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

Contact an Experienced Maryland Power of Attorney Law Firm

A POA is a very critical part of any Maryland estate plan. Contact Atkinson Law online or call 410-882-9595 (Baltimore office) or 443-384-0013 (Bel Air Office) to schedule your initial consultation to discuss your estate planning issues, including POAs, today.