Monday, April 15, 2013

General Power of Attorney - The Basics

A power of attorney (POA) or "power," is a legal document. You use it to give someone the authority to act for you. You are the principal. He is your agent. The person acting for you is also known as your "attorney-in-fact."

There are two primary types: the general and the special.

The special one is used to give another person authority to do one single thing.

The general one is not limited to a specific purpose. If you want someone to be able to act on your behalf while you are out of the country then the general one is what you need.

Now let us say you are going to Afghanistan, on active duty. You want to give your wife the right to do just about anything while you are gone.

Here is a how it might look:

I, Andy Rasmussen, do hereby grant my wife, Jesica Rasmussen, a general POA to perform any action on my behalf and to sign my name to any documents needed to accomplish said actions until I return home. Your signature and the date.

A notary seal is not required but if you are leaving the country for military service you might want to dress it up a bit and include a notary section. Then sign it in front of a notary just so your wife does not have any trouble with it while you are gone.

Now let us say you are caring for your invalid mother. She is still mentally competent but she wants you to take care of her affairs and pay her bills. The general one is what is called for. Here is how it might look:

I, Sally Smith, do hereby grant my daughter Louisa Lewis, a general POA to handle any and all of my affairs, including personal, business and other. Sally's signature and the date.

Once again, given the circumstances it would be best to have a notary section on this one and to get it properly notarized.

Let us say Louisa in the above example is worried about her mother becoming mentally incapacitated. In that case Louisa would have to go to court to get permission to manage her mother's affairs.

What is called for is a "durable" POA. It is still "general" but in this case we will also make it "durable" which means it continues even if mother becomes mentally disabled. Here is how it might look:

I, Sally Smith, do hereby grant my daughter Louisa Lewis, a general power to handle any and all of my affairs, to include personal, business and other. This shall continue and survive even if I become disabled whether mentally disabled or physically disabled. Sally's signature and the date.

For sure you would want to have this one notarized and it would be best that you had it drafted by or at least approved by an attorney who works primarily in the area of estate planning.

It is common to see some very comprehensive i.e. long (10-20 pages) durable powers of attorney. The reasoning behind these very thorough documents is that some financial institutions are very reluctant to rely upon broad, sweeping statements that a principal has granted all authority to their agent to do anything whatsoever.

Some banks, for example, who are dealing with an agent want to see very specific language that pertains to the actual transaction that is being carried out for the principal.

Also, in some states there is no penalty for not honoring a POA. For example, if someone chooses not to deal with an agent because they have their doubts about the true extent of the agent's authority.


A general power of attorney can be a very simple document. However, since it can be used so broadly, it is best that it be given more care and attention than a simple special one. When dealing with the aged or infirm you should consider a durable power of attorney. Have an attorney draft it or at least review it.


This article is intended to inform. Please seek legal advice in your state of residence if your situation involves any matter of consequence.

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