A power of attorney is a legal document granting one person the power to act for another in legal matters. There are a large number of different situations where such a document is useful.
The person who creates the power of attorney is called the principal. Anyone over 18 years of age who is of sound mind can create a power of attorney. The document is only effective while the principal is alive and well. When you grant a power of attorney, you do not give up the right to make your own decisions. You are still in charge.
Whomever you name as your agent in your power of attorney is called the attorney-in-fact. When the power of attorney goes into effect, the attorney-in-fact assumes a fiduciary responsibility to act responsibly on your behalf.
There are many different kinds of power of attorney for different purposes. It can be very broad or it can be limited. Some go into effect immediately while others take effect only after certain events take place. When someone becomes incapacitated, it is the power of attorney that empowers another individual to act on their behalf to handle such tasks as bill paying and making financial decisions.
If the power of attorney authorizes the attorney-in-fact to take care of all of your affairs, it is called a general power of attorney. A power of attorney that specifies the right to make only certain types of decisions would be a limited or specific power of attorney. A power of attorney that only becomes effective after certain events take place is called a springing power of attorney.
An ordinary power of attorney is only valid for as long as the grantor remains of sound mind and capable of making his or her own decisions. A durable power of attorney is used to grant power in the event of incapacitation. Durable power of attorney can be either general or limited.
Some people choose to create a health care power of attorney to grant someone else the right to make health care decisions for them. This is different from a living will. A living will simply defines certain parameters like what medications or procedures you would want, but can not provide decision making power like a health care power of attorney.
Still other types of power of attorney include financial care and custody of children, sale of real property, and sale of automobile or other vehicle. Consult with a qualified estate planning attorney to determine what kind of power of attorney is best for your unique needs.