Do You Need a POA?

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Nobody can be everywhere and do everything. If you would like to appoint a trusted agent to act on your behalf, you can write up a power of attorney to do just that. This is a document that gives a person you choose the legal authority to act for you.

If you are thinking of writing a POA, consider well the scope of the power you wish to transfer. Different types of POAs are appropriate for accomplishing different ends, so you'll want to read up on POAs or even get a attorney to help you.

Below you will find common questions about POAs and answers to those questions.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document you write up and sign to give someone else the legal authority to act in your place. The POA can be limited to one particular activity, such as selling your car for you, or it can be general, giving the person power to do anything and everything in your name.

A POA can be temporary, expiring a day or a week after it is granted. Or it can be permanent, remaining effective unless and until you cancel it. The POA can be immediately effective, or it can "spring" into effect when some described future event happens.

What is a durable power of attorney?

Most POAs expire automatically if you become incompetent. However, some POAs are expressly designed to give someone authority to act for you if you become incompetent. A durable power of attorney is a POA that continues in full force and effect if you lose mental capacity.

With a durable POA, the person you select as your agent has the authority to make important choices for you when you can't do so yourself. Usually durable POAs involve managing your finances (durable POA for finances) or directing your medical care (durable POA for medical care).

Can you cancel a POA?

You can cancel a POA at any time after you sign it. You do not need to give any reason for doing so. As long as you are competent, you can revoke the POA by advising your agent that the POA is revoked. It is wise to immediately follow up with written notice to your former agent.

You cannot make, change or cancel a POA if you become incompetent mentally. If you want a POA in place in case you lose mental capacity, you must make it when you are competent. If you want to cancel a durable POA, you must do so before you become incompetent.

Who can make a POA?

Any competent adult can write up a POA. But it may not be the best idea to prepare it yourself.

Although you don't have to hire an attorney to prepare your POA, it can be a good idea, especially for complex matters. The POA must provide an outline for the scope of the power given to your agent, and a lawyer might be more likely to describe it accurately and precisely.

How do you make a POA?

You must make a POA according to the law of the state you live in. No states outlaw POAs and few restrict the scope of POAs. However, procedural requirements vary among states. Many states require that you sign before a notary, and some require that you sign before witnesses.

For a simple POA, you can use a form prepared by your local American Bar Association branch or court system. For a durable POA, it can be better to work with an attorney.


About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.