What is a representation agreement (or power of attorney) and how do I make one?

If you’ve ever been concerned about who might handle your affairs should you become ill or pass away – or if you simply do not feel you’re the best person to handle certain legal decisions that come your way – then you may want to think about setting up a representation agreement, also called power of attorney, for yourself.

Representation agreements are useful, versatile legal contracts that most people are aware exist, but which not everyone understands. The following are frequently asked questions that should help explain exactly what power of attorney is and how it might benefit you.

Q: What exactly is “power of attorney”?

A: Power of attorney is a legal agreement that allows you to designate another person (known as your “agent”) to handle certain decisions on your behalf, or under certain circumstances (such as your illness or death).

Q: Can I specify what the agent is responsible for handling?

A: Yes, power of attorney is fairly flexible in terms of what specific “powers” you want the agent to have. You, as the “principal” in the contract, may give your agent power over specific types of decisions. For example, perhaps you would like a spouse or family member to be legally allowed to handle all transactions regarding property that you own. You may set up that person as agent, with power to handle your property-related transactions. Alternatively, you may only be concerned about who will handle your affairs in the event that you cannot do so; in that case, you can set up what is called a “springing” power of attorney that will only come into effect in a situation where you legally cannot make the decision yourself.

Q: What are the steps involved in setting up a power of attorney agreement?

A: Setting up a power of attorney is really quite simple. There is a specific legal form designed just for this purpose that you can get from an estate planning lawyer or from anywhere legal documents are offered.You may be able to find a copy with a simple online search. Once you have the form, you should fill it out completely, along with your chosen agent, who needs to understand the form and all of the information as clearly as you do. If either of you have questions about what the form is asking, or are unsure how to fill it out, a brief visit to a local attorney is an absolute must. It’s vital to ensure the form is completed properly, since you don’t want to leave your affairs up to chance.

Once the forms are completed, you and your agent need to sign them in front of a notary public. At that time, you should make copies and store one in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. Your agent should be given the original copy so that he or she has legal proof that they are authorized to act on your behalf.

Power of attorney is relatively simple to set up, but it’s not a decision to take lightly. Think carefully about who to choose as your agent and what responsibilities you want them to have, and make sure to have an honest, open conversation with that person to ensure that both of you understand what you expect from the agreement. Once you’ve done the work and filled out the documents, you should feel some peace of mind: setting up power of attorney is one of the most responsible things you can do for yourself and your legal affairs.