What is a Power of Attorney

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A power of attorney (POA) is a document that allows you to appoint a person or organization to manage your affairs if you become unable to do so.

However, all POAs are not created equal. Each type gives your attorney-in-fact (the person who will be making decisions on your behalf) a different level of control.

General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney gives broad powers to a person or organization (known as an agent or attorney-in-fact) to act in your behalf. These powers include handling financial and business transactions, buying life insurance, settling claims, operating business interests, making gifts, and employing professional help. General power of attorney is an effective tool if you will be out of the country and need someone to handle certain matters, or when you are physically or mentally incapable of managing your affairs. A general power of attorney is often included in an estate plan to make sure someone can handle financial matters.

Special Power of Attorney

You can specify exactly what powers an agent may exercise by signing a special power of attorney. This is often used when one cannot handle certain affairs due to other commitments or health reasons. Selling property (personal and real), managing real estate, collecting debts, and handling business transactions are some of the common matters specified in a special power of attorney document.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney grants your agent authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unconscious, mentally incompetent, or otherwise unable to make decisions on your own.

Durable Power of Attorney

Suppose you become mentally incompetent due to illness or accident while you have a power of attorney in effect. Will the document remain valid? To safeguard against any problems, you can sign a durable power of attorney. This is simply a general, special, or health care POA that has a durability provision to keep the current power of attorney in effect.

You might also sign a durable power of attorney to prepare for the possibility that you may become mentally incompetent due to illness or injury. Specify in the power of attorney that it cannot go into effect until a doctor certifies you as mentally incompetent. You may name a specific doctor who you wish to determine your competency, or require that two licensed physicians agree on your mental state.

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