The only way to become the power of attorney (POA) for another person is for that person to grant the authority, in writing, for someone else to act as her legal agent. A POA can grant broad authority that lasts a lifetime or be limited to a specific legal transaction, such as the sale of property. The rules and requirements for POAs vary from state to state, but it’s typically an inexpensive and relatively simple process to complete.
Benefits of a POA
With a physical disability, you may find it difficult to make your way to the bank to open a new account or otherwise manage routine financial matters. You may need help with a few things temporarily or require a significant amount of assistance on a regular basis. Either way, it can be a tremendous relief to give someone who is trustworthy the legal authority to manage your day-to-day financial responsibilities.
You should, of course, choose an agent (also called an attorney, but they don't have to be an attorney) whom you can trust. A POA agent can be a family member, close friend or even your attorney. You decide what powers to give your agent, and you can revoke the power of attorney at any time, unless you become mentally incapacitated.
Choosing the Correct POA
It’s important to choose the right POA for your circumstance. Some states may identify them by different names, but there are generally four categories of POA:
- Durable POA – This type of POA gives the agent authority to handle whatever legal matters you designate on the form, from sorting through your mail to handling your retirement investments. The durable POA also allows your agent to continue acting on your behalf even if you become mentally incapacitated or too ill to make decisions on your own. You must, however, be mentally competent when you first complete and sign the POA.
- Nondurable POA – This POA generally carries all the same authorities a durable POA would, except that it ends if you ever become mentally incapacitated.
- Special or Limited POA – This POA gives the agent authority to act in a specific manner for a specific time period, such as stepping in to sign papers for you when you cannot be present at a real estate closing.
- Medical POA – This POA gives the agent the right to make decisions concerning your medical care if you are unable to voice your desires. The forms for this provide space for you to write out pertinent information, such as how you want health-care providers to proceed should you not regain consciousness after an accident. The hospital staff, your doctors and other health-care providers must discuss all facets of your medical condition with your designated agent and follow his instructions regarding your care when there’s a choice about how to proceed.
Completing the POA Document
Most POA forms are easy to understand and complete. However, there are often slight to significant differences in the language of POA forms from state to state. If that language is altered or missing, the form could be invalid. It’s important to choose the right form for your location.
Many state bar associations have downloadable forms available on their sites. Some states have adopted model or statuary forms that you can find on the state’s official government website.
The signatures should be notarized, but you aren’t usually required to file a POA with the court. There may be exceptions, however, so read the instructions on the form carefully.
It may be beneficial to have legal guidance, and attorneys generally charge a minimal fee for overseeing a POA process.