The Skinny on the Power of Attorney

If something happens to you and you can’t manage your affairs, how will your affairs get managed?

That’s the basic question answered by the power of attorney, a legal document that allows you to appoint someone to manage your property, medical, or financial affairs. A power of attorney is an important part of any estate plan, and anyone over 18 can create one. In fact, the power of attorney is often the first document people think to create whey they are ready to start formalizing plans for their future.

The power of attorney is most often used by people who cannot manage their own affairs due to illness, aging, a disability, or being away for an extended period of time. Powers of attorney gives your agent (also called your attorney-in-fact—the person who will be making decisions for you) varying levels of control. Some powers of attorney take effect immediately after signing, and others go into effect if you become incapacitated.

Powers of attorney come in several flavors. Here’s a brief overview of the most common types.


A general power of attorney is comprehensive. It gives your attorney-in-fact all the powers and rights that you have yourself. For example, a general power of attorney may give your attorney-in-fact the right to sign documents for you, pay your bills, and conduct financial transactions on your behalf. A general power of attorney ends on your death or incapacitation unless you rescind it before then.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney leaves your attorney-in-fact with full control of your decisions in the event you are unable to make them. This type of power of attorney usually takes effect when you become disabled or incapacitated and expires when you die. Without a durable power of attorney, if you become incapacitated, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. This is a long and difficult process.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

The healthcare power of attorney gives another person, called the healthcare agent, the legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to communicate your preferences for treatment.

Springing Power of Attorney

If you don’t want to give up control while you’re still healthy, a springing power of attorney is something to consider. This power of attorney takes effect only upon a specified event, condition, or date. For example, if you are having surgery and the doctors need authority to do something on your behalf, your agent can assist in this decision-making process. If you are using a springing power of attorney, it is very important that the standard for determining incapacity and triggering the power of attorney be clearly explained.

Limited Power of Attorney

A limited power of attorney gives someone else the power to act in your stead for one-time transactions when you are unable to complete them due to incapacitation, illness, or prior commitments. It’s common to use this type of power of attorney for financial, investment, banking, or real estate-related matters. For example, a limited power of attorney could give someone else the right to sign a deed to property for you on a day when you are out of town.

How do you decide which type of power of attorney is right for your situation? Your best bet is to work with an elder law attorney in a Life Care Planning Law Firm who can help you evaluate your options. Though it may be tempting to create powers of attorney on your own using documents downloaded from the internet, you’ll take risks if you go that route. There’s no way a generic template can include language that works in every situation. Also, an elder law attorney can help you determine who will serve as your attorney-in-fact or agent. The person serving in this role will be doing so in less-than-ideal circumstances, so it’s important to choose wisely.

Help is available. Find a Life Care Planning Law Firm near you.