What is a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney is a document in which you, the principal, give another person the authority to take certain actions on your behalf. The person you designate is your “attorney-in-fact” who can act on your behalf in all lawful areas pursuant to your specifications.
Under California law, there are five types of power of attorney:
- General — A general power of attorney can allow someone to act on your behalf as you specify until you become incapacitated.
- Durable — With a durable power of attorney, the person you appoint can act on your behalf as specified even after you have become incapacitated
- Springing — A springing power of attorney “springs” into action, giving someone else the authority to act on your behalf if specific events happen.
- Limited — A limited power of attorney grants authority to someone to act on your behalf for a specific period of time
- Healthcare — A healthcare or medical power of attorney grants someone the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself
Why is a POA Important?
A power of attorney is important because it ensures that your financial and/or personal business will be carried on, even if you are unable to perform them yourself due to incapacitation, disability, or distance.
Considerations for Choosing
the Right Power of Attorney
The only legal requirement for choosing a power of attorney is that the person be of the age of majority (normally 18 years of age) and not incapacitated themselves. You may otherwise appoint anyone you want to serve as your attorney-in-fact, but there are few things you will want to consider:
- First and foremost, your power of attorney should be someone you trust. The integrity of your attorney-in-fact is more important than any educational or professional background.
- People often name spouses or children as their attorney-in-fact because they are close to them and trust them to carry out decisions as you would if you were capable of carrying them out yourself.
- Although your attorney-in-fact doesn’t have to live in the same town or state as you do, carrying out the duties might require that they do so locally, with regard to banking or real estate issues, for example.
- You can appoint more than one attorney-in-fact to serve simultaneously, although more than two could prove problematic. It is prudent to appoint a successor should the designated attorney-in-fact be unable to carry out their responsibilities for any reason.
- All states recognize powers of attorney, but the laws and rules may differ from state to state. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate statutory differences when you grant power of attorney if you anticipate that authority may be used in other states.
Having a law degree is not a requirement for an attorney-in-fact, but you should grant that authority only to someone you trust. A knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney can provide you with insight and information that will help you make this important decision.