Full Power of Attorney Definition

By Beverly Bird

When you grant someone power of attorney, he becomes almost like a legal clone who can stand in for you in certain instances. He can make binding decisions that otherwise only you could make. Because this has serious implications, the law allows you to specify exactly what you’re empowering this individual to do on your behalf. When you don’t limit his powers or the circumstances under which he can use them, you’ve given him a full power of attorney.

When you grant someone power of attorney, he becomes almost like a legal clone who can stand in for you in certain instances. He can make binding decisions that otherwise only you could make. Because this has serious implications, the law allows you to specify exactly what you’re empowering this individual to do on your behalf. When you don’t limit his powers or the circumstances under which he can use them, you’ve given him a full power of attorney.

Terminology

If you give someone power of attorney for the sole purpose of overseeing specific affairs while you’re out of the country or recuperating from a serious illness, this is a limited power of attorney. When the powers you're giving are open-ended and cover all aspects of your life, this is a general or full POA. Other terms also apply to a full POA. It might be durable, meaning that you’ve included language to cause it to continue if you become incapacitated. It can be springing; in this case, it would not go into effect unless or until you become incapacitated. When writing your POA, you are the “principal” and the person you grant power to is your “agent,” also sometimes called your "attorney-in-fact."

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Scope of Authority

A full power of attorney does not restrict your agent in any respect, unless you become incapacitated and you did not include durable language to make it survive beyond that point. He can contract for a lease in your name, pay your creditors and incur new debt in your name. You still hold the trump card, however. You can revoke your POA at any time, as long as you're mentally competent enough to do so. Creating a revocation document and submitting it to your agent and to all institutions he might interact with on your behalf curtails your POA.

Legal Requirements

A power of attorney does not require the legal sanction of a court. Unless it authorizes real estate transactions, you don’t have to file it with the court, and you don’t need court approval for its enforcement. However, you do have to be in full possession of your faculties when you sign it. Otherwise, the court would appoint a guardian to handle your affairs instead. A POA cannot survive your death. When you die, it terminates. Your state’s probate laws then govern the disposition of your assets.

Precautions

Before authorizing a full power of attorney, speak with a lawyer to make sure you understand the ramifications. You should only give power of attorney to someone you trust implicitly because you will be legally liable for any transactions the agent enters into in your name. If you give a full power of attorney to your spouse and divorce, some state laws will automatically terminate it. Just in case, it is best to issue a revocation when you know you're going to part ways.

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Can You Give a Power of Attorney to Someone to File for a Divorce?

References

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Can a Power of Attorney Be Changed if a Couple Is Not Divorced Yet?

Giving power of attorney to someone who cares more about her own interests than yours has some scary implications. Although there are different kinds of POAs, and some grant more extensive powers than others, when you create a power of attorney and name your spouse as your agent, you typically give her the right to transact a great deal of personal business on your behalf. There's no legal requirement that you must name your spouse as your agent. If you have, however, you may want to change your POA if you're planning to divorce.

Can I Renew My Husband's Passport for Him With a Power of Attorney?

As an agent appointed under your husband's power of attorney, you have authority to make either medical or financial decisions for him, depending on the scope of the POA document. If you hold a durable power of attorney and your husband is incompetent, you may be permitted to renew his passport.

How to Write a Power of Attorney

Although legal supply stores and websites offer power-of-attorney forms, a generic form might not suit your personal needs. A power of attorney can be almost anything you want it to be, so there’s no need to limit yourself to purchased, prewritten forms. You can write your own if you follow some basic guidelines. You might benefit from having an attorney review it after you’ve completed it, however, to make sure it adequately covers you under the law.

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