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.


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.

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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 You do so by drawing up a statement that the original power of attorney is no longer in effect, signing and dating the document, and having it witnessed.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.


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.

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Washington State Laws Concerning Illegal Gifting to Self by Power of Attorney

Granting a power of attorney is a useful way to enable someone else to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated or otherwise cannot act on your own. For example, if you develop a significant mental illness you may need someone to take care of your financial or health decisions. However, when you grant the power of attorney to your agent, he must act within the state of Washington’s power of attorney laws, including laws about gifts. If your agent gives himself gifts by using your power of attorney without permission or in a way you didn't authorize, this could be illegal.

Definitions of Durable and Non-Durable Power of Attorney

A power of attorney, or POA, grants an individual (“agent”) the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another individual (“principal”). The decision can involve legal, financial or health matters. The power of attorney may be limited in scope; it may also be more general, allowing the agent a wide range of legal powers. A durable power of attorney refers to the agent’s authority when the principal is incapacitated.

Power of Attorney Rights

The power of attorney doesn't so much grant rights as powers. Under a power of attorney arrangement, one person -- known as the principal -- grants an agent the power to perform legal acts on his behalf. This grant of authority may be broad or narrow, and it may be of temporary or indefinite duration. A power of attorney must be in writing and signed by the principal to be valid.

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