What Should Be in a Power of Attorney?

By Heather Frances J.D.

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives to another person, your agent or attorney-in-fact, authority to make decisions for you and act on your behalf. Powers of attorney can be very broad, allowing your agent to do many things for you, or they can be limited, just giving your agent authority to do one specific act. Since the document itself gives your agent his power, you must ensure the power of attorney describes exactly what powers you are giving to your agent.

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives to another person, your agent or attorney-in-fact, authority to make decisions for you and act on your behalf. Powers of attorney can be very broad, allowing your agent to do many things for you, or they can be limited, just giving your agent authority to do one specific act. Since the document itself gives your agent his power, you must ensure the power of attorney describes exactly what powers you are giving to your agent.

Name an Agent

Your power of attorney must name at least one agent with authority to act under the document. This person can be any legally competent adult, including a family member, friend or business associate. Generally, it should be someone you trust to act in your best interests. You can name more than one agent to act for you, either as co-agents or alternates. If you name co-agents, you can require them to act together on each decision or you can give them authority to act independently of each other. Naming alternates allows you to have a secondary agent to act for you if your first agent becomes unable or unwilling to act.

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Give Your Agent Powers

Your power of attorney document must specify the powers you want your agent to have. As long as your state's laws allow you to give a certain power away, you can give that power to your agent. For example, a medical power of attorney can give your agent authority to make a variety of medical decisions for you; a financial power of attorney can allow your agent to manage your financial affairs. Your power of attorney can be very limited, too, such as only allowing your agent to access your post office box. Whatever the powers you choose to give your agent, you must ensure that the document accurately describes those powers. Without clear authority, your agent may not be able to manage your affairs as you wanted.

Determine an Expiration Event

Your power of attorney can set an expiration date. Depending on your situation, a short-term power of attorney may be most appropriate, such as when you need someone to sign loan paperwork because you have to be out of town for a real estate closing. The document does not have to set a date for expiration, however. Powers of attorney without an expiration date are either durable, meaning they remain effective even if you are incapacitated, or they are nondurable, meaning your agent's authority is invalid while you are incapacitated. Without an expiration date, a durable power of attorney remains effective until you revoke it or you die.

Sign Your Document Properly

You must sign and date your power of attorney before it can become effective. Depending on the type of power of attorney you create and your state's laws, your document may have to be signed in front of two witnesses or a notary. Generally, your witnesses must be adults and must not be your agents. For example, your son should not be a witness if he is also listed as one of your agents under the same document. If you have created a medical power of attorney, your physicians or other care providers may be restricted from signing the document as witnesses.

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