What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a document by which an individual, referred to as a "Principal," appoints someone to make decisions behalf of the Principal. The person appointed in a Power of Attorney is often referred to as an “agent” or an “attorney-in-fact.”

There are generally two types of powers of attorney: medical and financial. 

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney names agents to make healthcare and medical decisions for the principal. In some states, the medical power of attorney may be a part of a living will or health care directive.

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney names agents to handle financial and business decisions for the principal. Financial powers of attorney may be broad and apply to nearly any non-medical decision.

What can I do as a Power of Attorney?

If you are named as an agent under a power of attorney, your duties, powers, and responsibilities may depend on state law and the terms of the power of attorney. Your powers may be effective immediately or they may become effective only when the principal is incapacitated or unable to make his or her own decisions. If effective immediately, your powers may remain effective until revoked, until the principal becomes incapacitated, or until the principal dies. You may have broad discretion and power or you may have more limited powers subject to specific restrictions in the power of attorney.

In most states, agents owe certain duties and loyalties to the principal. It is common for the agent to be required to use the powers granted under the power of attorney for the benefit of the principal, not for the benefit of the agent. As an example, the agent may be prohibited from entering into certain contracts that benefit the agent at the expense of the principal. Similarly, the agent may be restricted from making investment decisions for the principal that benefit the agent. 

Why was I named as a Power of Attorney?

Being named as an agent under power of attorney means the principal respects you and trusts you to make decision on their behalf. While the power of attorney may provide guidance regarding the scope of your duties and responsibilities, it may be helpful to have a conversation with the principal to discuss their preferences and desires. This may prove to be extremely helpful if you are ever asked to make a decision on behalf of the principal.


If you have questions about your powers, duties, and responsibilities as an agent named under a power of attorney, the duties owed to the principal, or other questions related to the power of attorney, you may wish to consult a qualified attorney licensed to practice in your state.

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