Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document by which a person appoints someone else to perform certain legal duties on his or her behalf. The appointed person is called the “agent.” The term "power of attorney" does not mean that the agent has to be a lawyer. Any adult can be the appointed agent, provided that both parties agree.
There are many types of powers of attorney. For example, a car dealer may ask you to sign a limited power of attorney when you trade in a car. This allows the dealer to transfer title at some later date. In many cases, a power of attorney is executed by someone who can no longer physically perform such things as banking and bill paying. The person's agent may then legally conduct such business.
A common type of power of attorney is called a general durable power of attorney. In this document, a person typically grants to his or her agent the authority to do everything that he or she would normally do with respect to his or her property. The powers granted in a general durable power of attorney can be as broad or limited as you want them to be. A general durable power of attorney will remain effective even though the person giving the power of attorney later becomes incapacitated or ill.
A power of attorney grants authority only during lifetime; it terminates upon the death of the person giving the power of attorney. The power of attorney may be revoked at any time, by either the person giving it or by the agent. A power of attorney is not a substitute for a will and does not dispose of property upon death.
A person must be of sound mind when he or she signs the power of attorney. Sometimes, a family member will contact an attorney after a loved one has had a stroke or other severe medical episode, or when the loved one is experiencing symptoms of dementia or alzheimer’s or is otherwise incapacitated. In these cases, it is often too late for the person to execute a power of attorney. At that point, the only alternative is to procure a guardianship, which is time-consuming, is much more expensive than a power of attorney, involves Court oversight of the guardian, and can be very stressful for the incapacitated person. A well-drafted power of attorney avoids all the expense, delay, and complication of a guardianship.
Once it is executed, a power of attorney may be recorded at the Court House to establish the appointment as a public record, but doing so is not necessary for all instances.
A power of attorney is an extraordinary measure because it gives someone other than yourself the right to manage, control, and possibly liquidate your assets. Therefore, you should make very certain that the person you appoint as your agent is absolutely trustworthy. You should contact an attorney before signing any such document.
Information is current as of 2/2018.