Power of Attorney Defined
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person, known as an agent, the ability to act on the behalf of someone else. The document itself stipulates exactly what rights the agent has. The rights can range from selling property to transferring money to making health care decisions for the grantor, known as the principal. Usually, two witnesses must sign the power of attorney document along with a notary in order to ensure the document isn't forged. However, exact requirements may differ between states.
The actual power of attorney document is important because it verifies that your power of attorney actually exists. Third parties may be wary of granting an agent access to a grantor's money or assets without having such proof. In fact, you may have to present this document to a third party before you can act under the rights the power of attorney gives you. Some third parties may require the attorney who drew up the document or principal to sign an affidavit verifying its authenticity. In Florida, third parties take it one step further and require the agent to sign an affidavit swearing that he's using the power of attorney properly. If you lose your power of attorney document and don't have access to any copies, you can't prove that you have the right to act as an agent and will likely need to get another power of attorney drawn up.
Recording the Document
Recording a power of attorney document often means the document is filed in a county's official public volume. In other words, the document becomes part of the county's public record. The downside is that the document is now publicly viewable by anyone. The upside is that a copy of the document is permanently on file with the county. This means that if you ever lose the power of attorney document, you can get a certified copy from the county recorder to prove the document's existence.
Some states allow agents to use copies of the power of attorney document instead of having to provide the original. Florida, for example, allows both photocopies and electronic copies of a power of attorney to be used to prove that an agent has been given these rights. In states like Florida, as long as you have a copy of your power of attorney, you can assert the rights the document grants you.
Losing the Original Copy
If you lose the original copy of a power of attorney in a jurisdiction where photocopies aren't allowed and the principal becomes incapacitated, you'll have to find other means of getting control of the assets, such as seeking guardianship or conservatorship in probate court. Guardianship of an adult means the adult is incapacitated and you are given authority to make medical and personal decisions on his behalf. Conservatorship means you're given authority over the person's financial decisions and estate.