5 Myths About Powers of Attorney

5 Myths About Powers of Attorney

by Brette Sember, J.D., October 2018

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that authorizes someone else, known as your agent, to make financial and business decisions on your behalf. A POA can be useful in case of illness or incapacity or if you are simply unavailable to handle some transactions yourself. Because of the authority the document gives, it's important to know the myths about powers of attorney so that you can understand how they work.

Man signing power of attorney document with ballpoint pen

Myth 1. Your power of attorney is effective after you die.

A power of attorney is effective only during your life. When you die, it dies with you and cannot be exercised after your passing. The type of power of attorney you execute determines its effectiveness during your lifetime. Both general and durable powers of attorney are effective immediately and without limitations, giving your agent the right to act for you now and in the future. A special power of attorney lists only very specific matters you authorize your agent to handle on your behalf. A springing power of attorney becomes effective only in a situation you specify, such as your becoming incapacitated, or for a certain date range.

Myth 2. Your power of attorney authorizes medical decisions.

A power of attorney is a document that authorizes your agent to handle only financial and business decisions on your behalf, not medical decisions. Some states have a medical power of attorney, sometimes called a healthcare proxy or living will, that authorizes a person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to decide for yourself. You need to execute this separate document if you want to give someone the authority to make medical decisions for you.

Myth 3. Your power of attorney can be used to alter your estate planning.

Although a power of attorney authorizes someone else to make financial and business decisions for you, only you can write a will or make changes to a will. Depending on the type of power of attorney you create and the powers you give your agent, the agent could have the authority to make changes to a trust you have created, if you would have the authority to make changes to the trust yourself.

Myth 4. A power of attorney forces you to give up your independence.

A power of attorney is created for your convenience. It is not a document that forces you to give up any of your independence. The purpose of a POA is to facilitate matters for you, by authorizing your agent to take actions on your behalf. Remember that even though you have authorized your agent to make decisions for you, you do not give up the power to make decisions for yourself while the power of attorney is in effect. You can revoke a power of attorney at any time by signing a revocation and giving it to your agent and anyone who has received a copy of the document.

Myth 5. I don't need a power of attorney because I am young and healthy.

No matter your age or health, it is a good idea to create a power of attorney so that if something unexpected does happen, you have an agent who can manage your affairs. If you are hit by a car tomorrow, no one can pay your rent or hospital bills or submit claim forms to your insurance company unless you authorize them to do so. Creating a power of attorney now ensures that your agent can act on your behalf should you unexpectedly be unable to manage your own affairs.

A power of attorney is an important document that can provide peace of mind. You can create a POA by itself or as part of an all-encompassing estate plan by working with an attorney or by using an online service provider.