What Is Power of Attorney?
UPDATED: December 16, 2019
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The legal concept known as power of attorney allows a second party to legally make decisions for you in certain situations. The need for power of attorney might arise simply because you wish to have another person make decisions and take actions on your behalf, or in a situation where you are not capable of making decisions or acting on your own behalf. Many people are unsure exactly what holding a power of attorney might entail, but it’s important to understand the facts, as you can never be sure when such a situation might affect you and your loved ones.
The Definition of Power of Attorney
Power of attorney is defined, in very basic terms, as the legal right to take action for someone else. This can encompass a wide variety of actions, from the selling and management of property to making medical decisions in the event of the person becoming too ill to make a rational choice on his or her own. The principal is the person who intends to have someone else act for him or her, while the agent is the person who is delegated to carry out the actions.
Power of attorney is a powerful legal contract that gives the agent a great deal of influence over the affairs of the principal. However, provided the principal is not mentally or medically unable to do so, the principal always has the choice to revoke the power, or to step in and handle a particular decision on his or her own.
Situations Where Power of Attorney Is Useful
Typically those who set up power of attorney for themselves do so because they feel that another person, perhaps a spouse or family member, is more capable of handling certain affairs than they are. They may also choose to set up what is called “springing” power of attorney rights, which only take effect upon the incapacitation or death of the principal person. Power of attorney is also common if you have to be out of the country, such as for military service, and need someone to be able to make decisions for you locally.
There are a number of ways a power of attorney agreement can be set up so that the principal can be assured his or her affairs are being handled in the correct way by the whomever he or she has delegated to do so.
Establishing Power of Attorney
If you feel you may need to set up a power of attorney for yourself or for a loved one, the first step is to speak to an experienced estate planning lawyer who can help draw up the correct paperwork. This is probably not something you should leave to chance by doing it yourself, particularly if the contract includes clauses about the principal’s death or incapacitation. You need to ensure your affairs will be taken care of according to your wishes no matter what. Choosing the right person as an agent is also vital, and you should speak honestly and openly with those you are considering before making a decision regarding who is right for the job. If a power of attorney agreement is treated responsibly by all parties, power of attorney is an excellent tool for anyone concerned about the proper handling of his or her legal affairs and decisions.