A power of attorney (POA) is a written document in which one person delegates legal authority to one or more people or an organization to perform certain actions. Generally speaking, a POA is granted when a person is unavailable or unable to perform those certain actions on their own. A person granting a POA is known as the principal and the person to which a POA is granted is known as the agent or attorney-in-fact. A POA may be revoked in writing if the person granting the POA is competent to do so. A POA expires upon the death of the principal.

Types of Powers of Attorney

General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney authorizes an agent to perform a wide variety of duties in different situations. A general power of attorney is used for banking transactions, buying, selling and managing real estate, purchasing life insurance policies, settling claims, entering into contractual obligations, filing taxes, buying stocks, exercising stock options, and the like.

A person granting a POA may also grant his agent the right to maintain and operate a business, employ professionals, make gifts, manage a living trust and disclaim interests

Special Power of Attorney

A special power of attorney is a narrowly drafted document that grants the agent the right to act in only specific types of situations, such as to sign and negotiate a particular real estate transaction. This type of POA is limited in duration and may be revoked in writing.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care POA is entered into when a person wishes for another to make health care decisions on his behalf if he should become incapacitated. Federal law grants a person the right to refuse medical care, including medical care that would extend a patient’s life. The health care POA gives the agent the right to make these decision on a person’s behalf and in accordance with his wishes.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable POA can apply to the above POAs and essentially allows the POA to remain in effect even if the person granting the POA becomes incapacitated or mentally incompetent.

“Springing” Power of Attorney

This type of POA takes effect upon the happening of an event in the future. Usually the POA goes into effect upon the person granting the POA becoming disabled or mentally incompetent.

Choosing an Agent

Choosing an agent for a POA requires some thought. A person may name anyone who is the age of majority and is not otherwise incapacitated. Many people choose a child or spouse to act as an agent. A person may choose more than one agent. A successor agent should be named in case the original agent is unable to act. As well, the agent should be someone who is trustworthy, who is capable of following the principal’s wishes, and has the time to keep the principal apprised of the agent’s actions.


A person may grant a person or an organization a power of attorney, the right to conduct legal affairs on that person’s behalf. The POA may be limited in scope and duration, and may be revoked in writing at any time as long as the principal is competent. A POA may be used for different purposes, from buying or selling real estate to managing the health care of another individual. Care should be spent in selecting the proper agent and in fully delineating the duties of that agent.