A power of attorney
is a legal document that a person (known as the principal) uses to give another person (known as the attorney-in-fact) the authority to sign documents and otherwise transact the principal's affairs.
There are several types of powers of attorney (POA), including financial, medical
and mental health
powers of attorney. In addition, power of attorney may vary with their purpose or the circumstances under which they were created.
A financial power of attorney can be specific, limiting the powers of the attorney-in-fact to certain clearly-defined functions. Or, it can be general, giving the attorney-in-fact full authority to transact all of the principal's affairs.
A durable power of attorney
remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated. It avoids the necessity (and the expense) of setting up a guardianship or conservatorship.
A springing power of attorney
goes into effect not when it is signed, but when the principal becomes incapacitated. As long as the principal is able to manage his or her own affairs, the attorney-in-fact under a springing POA has no power to act on the principal's behalf.
Other important facts about powers of attorney are:
They can be revoked by the principal at any time.
The attorney-in-fact must account to the principal for all transactions. The wrongful use of a POA can result in civil and criminal penalties against the offending attorney-in-fact.
When the principal passes away, the authority granted by the POA ends, and the power of the attorney-in-fact passes to the personal representative of the principal's estate.
Finally and perhaps most important, regardless of the scope of powers granted under a power of attorney, the principal should grant a POA only when there is a good reason to do so, and only to a person in whom he or she holds a very high level of trust.
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