Power of Attorney & How to Sign Legal Documents

By Marie Murdock

A power of attorney enables one person to sign legal documents or perform actions on behalf of another. Powers of attorney may be broad, granting almost unlimited authority, or they may be very limited and specific to a particular transaction. They may be created for convenience or in anticipation of a future debility.


The person who grants the authority by making the power of attorney is the principal. His is the only signature required on the power-of-attorney document in order for it to be effective. The principal must be an adult and of sound mind when the power of attorney is created.


The person appointed to act on behalf of the principal is referred to as the attorney-in-fact, although he need not be an actual attorney. An attorney-in-fact is usually a friend or trusted family member who the principal feels has his best interests at heart.

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Signing Authority

When a power of attorney becomes effective, the attorney-in-fact may sign legal documents on behalf of the principal, subject to acceptance by the person or entity relying on its authority. A power of attorney may become effective immediately upon the attorney-in-fact receiving a signed copy, or it may state that it becomes effective only when the principal becomes mentally incompetent. A power of attorney that becomes effective immediately may also be durable, which means that it continues in effect even if the principal later becomes mentally incompetent. The authority granted under a power of attorney ceases upon its being revoked in writing by the principal and proper notice of the revocation being given, or upon the death of the principal. At that point, the attorney-in-fact may no longer sign legal documents on behalf of the principal.

Notary Acknowledgment

The form of a notary acknowledgment may vary depending on the type of document being signed. A brief acknowledgment verifying that a document was signed in the presence of the notary may be sufficient for some transactions, while powers of attorney to be recorded or used in real estate transactions may require a more detailed acknowledgment that complies with state-specific guidelines. An attorney or title company may refuse to rely on a power of attorney that doesn’t comply. The attorney-in-fact will generally be required to sign both his and the principal’s names to any conveyance document, even though the notary acknowledgment may state that his name only is subscribed as attorney-in-fact for the principal. The notary acknowledgment may further be required to state that the attorney-in-fact is signing with proper authority.

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How to Activate a Power of Attorney


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Can a Person Give or Turn Over Her Power of Attorney to Someone Else?

Although a power of attorney involves two persons, it is not a contract and can be unilaterally revoked. The person making the document, termed the principal, uses the power of attorney to name an agent to act for her. A competent principal is free to revoke that authority at any time and confer it on another agent. The person named as agent can also decline to serve but cannot give or transfer her authority under the power of attorney to another.

Can a Power of Attorney Give Away a Life Estate?

A power of attorney is a written document wherein a principal grants an agent the power to take action on the principal’s behalf. Powers of attorney are often granted because the principal wants to take a specific action but cannot do it personally for some reason. What an agent can and cannot do is defined in the power of attorney document. A power of attorney can grant an agent the ability to give away a life estate specifically or the right to distribute a principal’s property subject to whatever terms the agent sees fit. However, the power of attorney may limit the circumstances in which an agent can use his power.

How Effective Is Power of Attorney After Death?

A power of attorney is a legal document in which one person, known as the principal, appoints another, known as an attorney-in-fact, to sign documents and perform acts on his behalf. The powers granted to an attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney terminate upon the death of the principal, but in some states, that termination may be conditioned upon actual knowledge and not affect everyone at the moment of death.

Power of Attorney

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