Power Of Attorney Form
One size never fits all in anything important. That is especially true of the pivotal legal document called a power of attorney (POA), which grants a named agent or attorney-in-fact the right to act in your place when you cannot. It may be necessary for courts to intervene in some instances if a POA is not available.
You can buy or download a power of attorney template; if you do, be sure it is for your state, as requirements differ. But this document may be too important to leave to the chance that you got the correct form and handled it properly.
A better way to start the process of establishing a power of attorney is by locating an attorney who specializes in family law in your state. If attorney's fees are more than you can afford, legal services offices staffed with credentialed attorneys exist in virtually every part of the U.S. Click here for the Legal Services Corporation website, which has a "Find Legal Aid" search function. Clients who qualify will receive pro bono (cost-free) assistance.
Many states require that the signature of the principal (the person who initiates the POA) be notarized. Some states also require that witnesses' signatures be notarized.
The following provisos apply generally, nationwide. Everyone who needs to create a POA should be aware of them:
- There is no standard POA form for all 50 states; state law and procedures vary
- All states accept some version of the durable power of attorney
A few key powers cannot be delegated. These include the authority to:
- Make, amend or revoke a will
- Contract a marriage (except in Colorado and Montana)
- Vote (but the guardian may request a ballot on behalf of the principal)
Essential to All POA Forms
The details may differ, but these rules apply coast to coast:
Put it in writing. While some regions of the country accept oral POA grants, verbal instruction is no reliable substitute for getting each of the powers of attorney granted to your agent spelled out word-for-word on paper. Written clarity helps to avoid argument and confusion.
Use the proper format. Many variations of power of attorney forms exist. Some POAs are short-lived; others are meant to last until death. Decide what powers you wish to grant and prepare a POA specific to that desire. The POA must also satisfy the requirements of your state. To find a form that will be accepted by a court of law in the state in which you live, perform an internet search, check with an office-supply store or ask a local estate-planning professional to help you. The best choice is to use an attorney, as discussed above.
Identify the parties. The term for the person granting the POA is the "principal." The individual who receives the power of attorney is called either the "agent" or the "attorney-in-fact." Check whether your state requires you to use specific terminology.
Detail the powers you want to delegate. A POA can be as broad or as limited as the principal wishes. However, each of the powers granted must be clear, even if the principal grants the agent "general power of attorney." In other words, the principal cannot grant sweeping authority such as, I delegate all things having to do with my life.
Specify whether your POA is durable. In most states, a power of attorney terminates if the principal is incapacitated. If this happens, the only way an agent can keep his or her powers is if the POA was written with an indication that it is "durable," a designation that makes it last for the principal's lifetime unless the principal revokes it.
Notarize the POA. Many states require powers of attorney to be notarized. Even in states that don't, it is potentially much easier for the agent if a notary's seal and signature is on the document.
Sign in black ink. A document that is later scanned and stored digitally will be much more legible if only black ink is used. Not all powers of attorney must be recorded formally by the county in order to be legal. But recording is standard practice for many estate planners and individuals who want to create a record that the document exists.
File it. Some states require specific kinds of POAs to be filed with a court or government office before they can be made valid. For instance, Ohio demands that any POA used to grant grandparents guardianship over a child must be filed with the juvenile court. It also requires a POA that transfers real estate to be recorded by the county in which the property is located.
The Bottom Line
Like the property deed for your house or car, a POA grants immense ownership authority and responsibility. It is literally a matter of life and death in the case of a medical POA. And you could find yourself facing financial privation or bankruptcy if you end up with a mishandled or abused durable POA.
Choose your agent with the greatest of care and pay equal attention to the required paperwork to ensure that your wishes are carried out to the greatest extent possible. For full details on the types of powers of attorney you can create, and what happens if you lack one, see Power Of Attorney: Do You Need One?