Oftentimes we wind up confronted with a legal issue and have no idea what all of the language means. “Speak English” is a common assertion not only to doctors but to lawyers as well. With terms based in Latin, it’s simple to see how a layman can get lost fairly quickly. One term that most people have heard but few understand is “power of attorney”. What does it mean and how does it apply to the average person?
The most common misconception is that power of attorney means that you give away your legal authority to a lawyer. This is incorrect. What it actually means is that you allow someone else to make financial and health-related decisions for you if you’re unavailable or incapacitated. Simply put, someone else is able to legally act on your behalf.
A typical question following the explanation of power of attorney is what exactly is a power of attorney able to do? There are actually several types of power of attorney but the most common three are general, springing, and durable.
A “general” power of attorney is a sweeping document that allows the other person to act on your behalf across the board. They are able to make financial decisions, withdraw money, write checks, and deal with any medical care issues in the event that you’re incapacitated. A “springing” power of attorney document states that only after a certain event does the other person take control. For instance, if the principal, or one who created the power of attorney, suffers a catastrophic event, the document will “spring” into action. It could also “spring” after a certain date or when the principal reaches a certain age. Lastly, a “durable” power of attorney states that the agent, or one acting as power of attorney, loses all legal control after the principal dies, or becomes incapacitated.
Other types of power of attorney do exist but mainly act as offshoots of the main three. So, health care power of attorney is designed to work in the event that the principal is injured or incapacitated which is a type of general power of attorney.
The main point is that there are several types of power of attorney and it’s important to be knowledgeable and able to distinguish between them. In the event that you suffer a debilitating injury or are otherwise unable to make legal decisions it’s important to have someone you trust allocating your funds and making sound decisions.