Power of attorney (POA) is a very useful legal instrument that authorizes someone to make decisions on your behalf. Similar to an executor who has the power to handle your affairs after you pass away, the person to whom you grant power of attorney (called an “agent” or “attorney, in fact”) has the power to handle things while you are still alive. Contrary to what the name implies, this other person does not need to be an attorney or even have any special skills. Additionally, there are different types of power of attorneys.
Creating one or more POA documents is a common component of estate planning, as it helps protect you, your family, and your property in certain situations. Here are the different types of power of attorney you should know.
Durable vs. Non-Durable Power of Attorney
You may have heard the term “durable power of attorney” before. It means the agent can act on the principal’s behalf even if they become incapacitated. (“Incapacitated” means you can no longer make decisions on your own.) On the other hand, non-durable power of attorney ends when the principal becomes incapacitated. So, for example, if you were to grant POA to your stock broker so they could make trades on your behalf, it would usually be a non-durable POA.
Springing Power of Attorney
Whereas power of attorney usually goes into effect immediately upon signing, a springing power of attorney only becomes effective once certain conditions are met. Most commonly, it becomes effective in the event the principal becomes incapacitated.
While springing POA makes sense in theory, it can create complications and delays. This is because incapacitation is not always clear. For example, if the principal has dementia or has a brain injury, there may be disagreements as to whether they can make their own decisions. In the meantime, medical bills and other affairs that must be managed could be piling up.
General Power of Attorney
In California, a general power of attorney allows the agent to handle any of the principal’s financial affairs, such as paying bills or selling real estate. However, a general POA does not authorize the agent to make healthcare decisions. Typically, this POA is non-durable, meaning it ends if the principal becomes incapacitated.
Limited Power of Attorney
Limited power of attorney also usually relates to handling financial affairs but is restricted in scope. For example, if you own an apartment building, you might grant a limited POA to a property management company to enter into leases, pay bills, etc.
Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney allows the agent to make healthcare decisions on the principal’s behalf if incapacitated. This can include anything from regular checkups to end-of-life care. Often, the principal will have previously created some healthcare directives defining what they want to happen in certain situations, such as whether to continue life support if they are in a vegetative state.
Choose the Right Power of Attorney
Regardless of which type of power of attorney you might need, a power of attorney should be an integral part of your larger estate plan. Speaking to a lawyer is usually the best first step in determining what POA documents are right for you and ensuring all contingencies are covered.
Speak with one of our experienced professionals. They will review your current situation, and help you design a strategy to meet your needs. Contact our office to get started.