When you grant someone power of attorney, he becomes almost like a legal clone who can stand in for you in certain instances. He can make binding decisions that otherwise only you could make. Because this has serious implications, the law allows you to specify exactly what you’re empowering this individual to do on your behalf. When you don’t limit his powers or the circumstances under which he can use them, you’ve given him a full power of attorney.
If you give someone power of attorney for the sole purpose of overseeing specific affairs while you’re out of the country or recuperating from a serious illness, this is a limited power of attorney. When the powers you're giving are open-ended and cover all aspects of your life, this is a general or full POA. Other terms also apply to a full POA. It might be durable, meaning that you’ve included language to cause it to continue if you become incapacitated. It can be springing; in this case, it would not go into effect unless or until you become incapacitated. When writing your POA, you are the “principal” and the person you grant power to is your “agent,” also sometimes called your "attorney-in-fact."
Scope of Authority
A full power of attorney does not restrict your agent in any respect, unless you become incapacitated and you did not include durable language to make it survive beyond that point. He can contract for a lease in your name, pay your creditors and incur new debt in your name. You still hold the trump card, however. You can revoke your POA at any time, as long as you're mentally competent enough to do so. Creating a revocation document and submitting it to your agent and to all institutions he might interact with on your behalf curtails your POA.
A power of attorney does not require the legal sanction of a court. Unless it authorizes real estate transactions, you don’t have to file it with the court, and you don’t need court approval for its enforcement. However, you do have to be in full possession of your faculties when you sign it. Otherwise, the court would appoint a guardian to handle your affairs instead. A POA cannot survive your death. When you die, it terminates. Your state’s probate laws then govern the disposition of your assets.
Before authorizing a full power of attorney, speak with a lawyer to make sure you understand the ramifications. You should only give power of attorney to someone you trust implicitly because you will be legally liable for any transactions the agent enters into in your name. If you give a full power of attorney to your spouse and divorce, some state laws will automatically terminate it. Just in case, it is best to issue a revocation when you know you're going to part ways.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.