No matter what type of power of attorney you need, LegalNature's intuitive questionnaire makes it easy to give your agent decision-making authority over almost all of your affairs, and our power of attorney form gives you complete flexibility in tailoring the document to your specific needs. Below, you will find a detailed description of the main sections and key components of LegalNature's customizable power of attorney in the order that they appear in the document. Note that some of these sections may be omitted from your document depending on how you answer the relevant questions.
To begin, you need to determine whether you wish to complete a medical, durable, or general power of attorney. Under any power of attorney, the person creating and signing the document—the "principal"—appoints another person—the "agent" (a.k.a. your attorney-in-fact)—to manage specific matters on the principal's behalf. A medical power of attorney is used to appoint an agent to manage health care matters when the principal becomes incapacitated and unable to communicate. A durable power of attorney is the same except the agent only has authority over non-medical matters, such as financial, business, and real estate affairs. A general power of attorney is also used for non-medical matters; however, the agent may only act on the principal's behalf while the principal remains in good health and is able to communicate.
The following information relates specifically to medical powers of attorney. Skip below for information regarding durable and general powers of attorney.
Depending upon your state, this person may be called your agent, proxy, representative, or something similar. Your agent is legally required to follow your directions listed in the document as well as any other wishes you communicate to him or her. You can also use our living will form, which includes a healthcare power of attorney in it, to specify your wishes concerning treatment you receive if you become too sick to speak for yourself.
Your healthcare agent needs to be at least 18 years old and mentally competent to follow your directions. In addition, read your document for any additional state-specific requirements. Many states prevent you from appointing your physician or an employee of your healthcare provider as your agent. If you are unsure, it is best to appoint someone who does not fall into these categories and is someone you trust to carry out your wishes no matter what.
It is important to have multiple potential agents as backup to represent the principal's healthcare interests in case the primary agent is unable or unwilling to act on the principal's behalf when needed. This may occur for various reasons. A potential agent could be unable to represent the principal because they themselves become incapacitated due to health reasons. Or perhaps a potential agent may be unwilling to represent the principal because they lose confidence in their ability to effectively deal with the principal's affairs.
Whatever the circumstances may be, appointing successor agents allows you to establish a contingency plan for alternative agents who may also represent the principal if potential agents are unable or unwilling to do so. If you choose to add these successor agents to the power of attorney, these successor agents will be clearly identified within the appropriately titled sections by his or her name, address, and phone number to avoid any confusion over identity.
In addition, the power of attorney allows you the option to appoint a guardian of your person or estate. You will need a guardian to help manage your personal affairs in the event that you become incapacitated. Appointing a guardian that you know and trust is usually preferred over a guardian appointed by a court (who does not necessarily always have your best interests in mind).
Lastly, you can also elect to designate your primary physician and your wishes concerning organ donation and burial.
It is very important that you read the ENTIRE document before signing. Not only are you delegating important authority to your agent that you need to be aware of, but there are many places that require you to initial next to your choices. Initialing is required to both indicate your choice and to prove your wishes in the event there is ever a dispute. Once you are sure you have read the document and indicated your healthcare choices, simply sign and date where applicable in front of the required witnesses, as discussed below.
Some states only require the signatures of two witnesses OR a notary. However, it is best (and we highly recommend) to have two disinterested witnesses AND a notary sign your power of attorney. You may refer to your state's specific witnessing requirements in the instructions that come with your document.
As mentioned above, durable and general power of attorney documents both relate to non-medical matters that the agent is empowered to manage on behalf of the principal, including financial, business, and real estate affairs. The only difference between them is when the agent's powers terminate. In a general power of attorney, the agent's powers to act for the principal terminate upon the principal's death or incapacitation, while in a durable power of attorney the agent may continue to act even after these events occur. Therefore, except where indicated, the information below applies to both documents.
If you choose to officially record the document in your county, the top-left block of text appearing immediately before the document title informs the official handler of the recording process who requested this document to be placed in public record, how the document should be treated after it is recorded, and who created this document.
It is not necessary to record a power of attorney to make it legally binding; however, if the agent has the power to handle real estate transactions and it is likely they will use this power on the principal's behalf, it may be useful to record the durable power of attorney.
This section is where the principal appoints an agent, also known as an “attorney-in-fact.” The agent is clearly identified by his or her name, address, and phone number to avoid any confusion over identity.
In considering who to appoint as the agent, address the following questions:
This section establishes when and for how long the agent will represent the principal and their interests.
The principal may authorize the agent to start acting on their behalf immediately, when the power of attorney is fully executed, at a later date, or, for durable powers of attorney, if and when they become incapacitated or deceased. “Incapacitated” means the principal is no longer able to understand and evaluate information in order to make competent decisions regarding financial, business, or legal affairs. This can be due to physical and mental impairment.
Once the agent’s authority to represent the principal begins, they may represent them until a predetermined specified date or continue without an end date, even through any period of incapacitation, until the principal decides to revoke or change the agent’s authority.
If you choose a specific date, you can enter the exact date of when you want the agent’s authority to expire. For example, this may be two years from the time you sign your power of attorney or when you anticipate to return from service or deployment overseas. Specifying a predetermined end date for the agent’s representation may be suitable if the principal anticipates that their life circumstances or the agent’s life circumstances may change drastically in the future. It provides the principal with an expected timeline to reevaluate and update their financial affairs if necessary.
Under a durable power of attorney, if you choose not to set an end date, the agent’s authority will not end until the principal decides to change it. This may be suitable if the principal wants the agent to easily manage their affairs indefinitely, even through mental or physical incapacitation.
Under a general power of attorney, the agent's authority automatically terminates upon the principal's death or incapacitation.
The principal must understand that the power of attorney places them and the agent in a fiduciary relationship. The meaning of “fiduciary” is an agent’s obligation to act only in the principal’s best interest. This section once again reiterates that the relationship between the principal and the agent is one of the highest trust and confidence. If and when the agent makes a decision for the principal, it must be for the principal's benefit or according to the principal's wishes.
It is important to have multiple potential agents as backup to represent the principal's financial and legal interests in case the primary agent is unable or unwilling to act on the principal's behalf when needed. This may occur for various reasons. A potential agent could be unable to represent the principal because they themselves become incapacitated due to health reasons. Or perhaps a potential agent may be unwilling to represent the principal because they feel uncomfortable with their inexperience to deal with the principal's sophisticated financial or legal situation.
Whatever the circumstances may be, the sections titled “Successor Agent” and “Second Successor Agent” allow you to establish a contingency plan for alternative agents who may also represent the principal if potential agents are unable or unwilling to do so. If you choose to add these successor agents to the power of attorney, these successor agents will be clearly identified within the appropriately titled sections by his or her name, address, and phone number to avoid any confusion over identity.
If the principal grants the agent total authority to act on their behalf, then all the authorities below will be displayed within this section. On the other hand, if the principal does not grant the agent total authority, then you will need to indicate which authorities the agent is authorized to act for the principal. When the document is completed, the principal must initial each of the authorities they have granted to the agent.
This section lists more specialized and less common authorities that may or may not be applicable to the principal depending on their financial, business, and legal affairs. The principal should read through each authority carefully and must initial each authority they wish to grant the agent.
The following are some terms that may be helpful to know when reading this section. These terms are not exhaustive and you should research the terms more if you have any lingering questions.
Depending on your answer, this section specifies any special additional instructions, terms, provisions, or restrictions the principal will place on the agent’s authority.
This section only applies to durable powers of attorney. Depending on your answer, this section identifies who the principal would prefer the courts to appoint as their guardian or conservator for health care and other purposes if protective proceedings are initiated when they become incapacitated. If the principal has executed a separate healthcare power of attorney, living will, advance directive, or other similar healthcare document that appoints a healthcare agent or proxy, this section may not apply.
The agent may be entitled to certain rights and powers due to the amount of time, work, and responsibility necessary to perform their duties as the agent. For example, the agent may be compensated weekly depending on the difficulty and extensiveness of their services as the agent. The agent will be reimbursed for reasonable and documented costs and expenses.
The agent will need to make representations on the principal's behalf as part of their duties. The principal agrees here that third parties, such as banks or business associates, can rely on these representations.
The agent may not be held liable for any wrongdoing so long as they perform their duties according to the principal's wishes and authorizations within the power of attorney in good faith. Unforeseen complexities in making financial, business, or legal decisions may scare a good agent away from serving. This language ensures them that they will not be exposed to personal liability when representing the principal's interests for the principal's benefit.
In executing the power of attorney, the principal revokes any previous durable power of attorney documents they have made. The new durable power of attorney becomes the current and effective durable power of attorney for the principal, unless and until it is revoked or another power of attorney is executed that includes a revocation clause.
If you wish to amend, change, or update only a portion of the power of attorney, this amendment must be attached to the original power of attorney that you are making the changes from. Additionally, if the original power of attorney is recorded, the amendment must be recorded as well to be effective and recognized as part of the originally recorded documents.
The agent must sign for the principal in the following manner: [Principal] by [Agent], his or her Agent. For example, if the principal is “John Smith” and the agent is “Jane Smith,” Jane will sign for John as his agent as “John Smith by Jane Smith, as his or her Agent.”
The power of attorney will remain effective if any section becomes invalid for any reason such as changes in law. The invalid section will simply be disregarded as if it does not exist.
Any person can rely on this executed power of attorney, in original or copied form, unless they know for a fact that the power of attorney has been superseded, changed, or is otherwise invalid.
When the principal has carefully read all of the terms of the power of attorney, they must sign in the presence of an appropriate disinterested witness or witnesses according to their state requirement as provided in the “Instructions for Your Power of Attorney.”
This notice ensures that the agent understands their duties and responsibilities under the power of attorney. Most importantly, the agent must act in the principal's benefit and cannot commingle the principal's assets and properties with their personal assets and properties.
The agent must carefully read this notice and all terms of the power of attorney before signing and accepting the assignment to become the agent. The agent should seek legal advice if they have any questions.
For certain states, a notary section is attached. Although not required, it is recommended that a notary witnesses the signing, which will help prove the authenticity of the power of attorney should it ever be challenged in court.
The principal and the witness or witnesses all must sign in the presence of each other (everyone should see each other sign). The acknowledgment affirms the principal's identity, that they signed the power of attorney in the witness’ presence, that they are of sound mind and memory, that the signature was not procured fraudulently, and that the witness or witnesses are not the agents (i.e. are disinterested parties without any conflicts of interest).
To make your power of attorney legally binding, you need to sign the document in the presence of the appropriate witnesses. Check your state's witnessing requirements. As financial institutions and other entities often require it to be notarized, we recommend that you use a notary even if your state does not require it. Make sure any witnesses you use are not appointed as agents in the instrument, related to the principal by blood, or beneficiaries of the principal's.
You do not have to record a power of attorney to make it legally binding. However, if you are giving your agent the power to handle real estate transactions for you, and it is likely your agent will use this power on your behalf in the future, then it is best to go ahead and record the document for a small fee (usually $20–$30).
Remember, you can amend or revoke your power of attorney at any time after it goes into effect.
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