What is power of attorney? Everyone 18 and older should have this document in place.
What comes to mind when you hear the words “power of attorney"?
An important legal document? A license to steal? The key to successful caregiving? All of the above?
If you thought “all of the above,” you're on the right track. The power of attorney is a powerful legal document.
It can give tremendous authority to another person, including the right to access your bank accounts and to make decisions for you. And, in times of crisis or declining health, a power of attorney is the essential tool in your caregiver's toolkit.
Types of powers of attorney
A power of attorney names a person who can act on your behalf; this person is called your “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.” Before you create a power of attorney, you should know your options and which ones your home state allows.
Specific powers of attorney limit your agent to handling only certain tasks, like paying bills or selling a house, and generally on a temporary basis.
General powers of attorney give your agent broad authority. They can step into your shoes and handle all your legal and financial affairs.
With these documents, that authority can end at the time you become incapacitated.
Durable powers of attorney may be limited or give your agent broad authority to handle all your legal and financial affairs, but your agent keeps the authority even if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. This means that your family may not have to ask for a court to intervene if you have a medical crisis or have severe cognitive decline such as late-stage dementia.
Sometimes, medical decision-making is included in a durable power of attorney for health care. This may be addressed in a separate document that is solely for health care, like a health care surrogate designation.