A power of attorney allows an agent to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of a principal, subject to the terms of a written power of attorney authorization form. Power of attorney is governed by state law, and the laws of each state are slightly different. In Tennessee, power of attorney is governed by Section 34 of the Tennessee Code.
In Tennessee, a power of attorney must specifically authorize the types of decisions the principal is authorizing the agent to make, and must be signed and dated by the principal. The principal's signature must be notarized in the presence of at least two witnesses. The principal must be mentally competent at the time he signs the document.
Agent's Rights and Duties
Any act performed by an agent on behalf of the principal, such as signing a contract, is binding on the principal just as if the principal had performed the act himself. In some cases, the binding effect of such an act can endure beyond the principal's death -- the assumption of a debt, for example, may mean that a creditor can make a claim against a deceased principal's estate. The agent must act in good faith, with reasonable care and in the best interests of the principal. He may not act for his own gain, but he may accept a reasonable fee for his services.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney comes into effect and remains in effect when the principal is incapacitated. "Incapacity" means mental incompetence, unconsciousness or inability to communicate. Depending on its terms, a durable power of attorney may empower the agent to make life-or-death decisions on behalf of the principal, including the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration in cases of terminal illness as long as certain statutory language s used. If the power of attorney empowers the agent to make medical decisions, the physician who honors it is insulated from civil, criminal and professional liability as long as he acts in good faith. A medical power of attorney may empower the agent to make decisions about the disposition of the principal's remains after he dies.
A principal is free to revoke a power of attorney at any time unless he is incompetent. He may revoke it by notifying the agent orally or in writing, and the revocation becomes effective immediately. He may revoke the power to make medical decisions by notifying the attending physician orally or in writing, even without notifying the agent. If the principal is the agent's wife, divorce automatically revokes a power of attorney. The principal may also revoke a power of attorney by creating a new power of attorney, even if the new power of attorney does not specifically revoke the previous one.