General Power of Attorney in Washington State

by Tom Streissguth

    The state of Washington allows individuals to grant authority to others through a power of attorney. This document authorizes an agent or agents to act on behalf of a principal. A “general” power of attorney gives broad scope to these actions, so such a document should be carefully drawn up and offered only to someone you trust.

    Scope

    The law in Washington allows agents with a general power of attorney to make important decisions for their principals. This includes healthcare options, financial decisions and legal actions. A general power of attorney also allows an agent to make some decisions for a principal’s minor children.

    Effective Date

    A general power of attorney may take effect immediately, or may take effect in the future on a conditional basis. For example, a grantor may sign a general power of attorney that authorizes an agent to act on the grantor’s behalf only if the grantor becomes physically or mentally incapacitated. Normally when the principal dies or becomes incapacitated, the power of attorney lapses.

    Revocation

    As the principal granting a power of attorney, you have the right to revoke the document at any time. You do so by drawing up a statement that the original power of attorney is no longer in effect, signing and dating the document, and having it witnessed. Many power of attorney forms have a revocation clause, which you simply sign and date if you wish to cancel the document. You must provide a copy of the revocation and original power of attorney to your agent and to anyone else concerned. If your agent holds a durable power of attorney and you are incapacitated, you can only have the power of attorney revoked by court order.

    Court-Ordered Decisions

    The laws of Washington preclude an agent using a general power of attorney from making certain healthcare decisions without a court order, including the decision to amputate a limb, administer shock therapy, keep the principal on life support or confine the principal to an institution. For this authority, a principal must sign a healthcare advance directive, which must have specific language about the circumstances under which these decisions can be made.

    Prohibited Actions of an Agent

    A general power of attorney in Washington cannot be used to make gifts of money, designate life insurance beneficiaries or modify a community property agreement, unless these actions are specifically provided for in the power of attorney. In addition, a power of attorney never confers the right to vote or change a will on behalf of the principal.

    Disputes

    If you sign a general power of attorney, you retain the right to make decisions and handle your own affairs; in the event of a disagreement, your agent must accept your instructions.

    About the Author

    Tom Streissguth has authored more than 100 books for the school and library market, including works for the Gale, Enslow, Facts on File and Lerner Publications. He is the founder of The Archive, an independent publisher of historical journalism collections, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University.

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