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A power of attorney is a legal document you sign that gives someone else, called your agent or attorney-in-fact, the legal power and authority to act for you. Despite the name, your attorney-in-fact does not need to be a lawyer. It can be anyone you choose.

Usually, you use a POA for the purpose of giving your attorney-in-fact such authority in the event you become seriously ill or injured. You might also want to sign a financial POA if you intend to be out of the country for an extended period of time and therefore not available to sign legal documents.

Types of POAs

Your power of attorney can be either general or limited. A general POA gives your attorney-in-fact comprehensive authority to exert all the rights and powers you have yourself. Conversely, your limited POA grants your attorney-in-fact the authority to act for you for only the limited purpose(s) it specifies. The two most common types of limited POAs are medical POAs and financial POAs.

A medical POA can grant your attorney-in-fact the authority to do any or all of the following:

  • Access your medical records
  • Make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself
  • Go against a doctor’s or hospital’s recommendations if he or she thinks appropriate
  • Take you off life support


Your financial POA can grant your attorney-in-fact the authority to do any of the following:

  • Handle your bank and investment accounts
  • Sign your checks
  • Sell or buy assets for you
  • File your taxes
  • Collect and endorse your Social Security checks


When Your POA Takes Effect

You can choose to have your POA go into effect as soon as you sign it. Alternatively, you can choose to make it a “springing” POA by designating the future circumstances or conditions under which you want it to go into effect.

When Your POA Expires

Your POA can expire for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • You revoke it
  • You die
  • A court invalidates it
  • You divorce the spouse you named as your attorney-in-fact
  • Your attorney-in-fact refuses to act as such or can no longer carry out his or her responsibilities due to his or her own incapacity or simply because he or she no longer wishes to serve


Keep in mind that conventional POAs also expire if you become mentally incapacitated. If you want yours to continue despite this, make sure you designate it as a durable power of attorney.

Need for Legal Advice

State laws vary as to the types of powers of attorneys they allow, how they must be worded, and how they must be signed. For instance, some states require two witnesses. Others require notarization. To make sure your POA becomes and remains valid, your best strategy is to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer, like an estate planning lawyer in New York from Kaplan Law Practice, today.