A power of attorney, or POA, is an estate planning document used to appoint an agent to manage your affairs. There are several different types of power of attorney. Each serves a different purpose and grants varying levels of authority to your agent.
Related Resource: What is Power of Attorney?
It’s important to make sure you choose the right type of POA to meet your needs.
For example, a medical power of attorney gives your agent the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf, while a general power of attorney allows an agent to handle your fiscal and legal affairs. Therefore, you may want to include two or three types of power of attorney in your estate plan.
The 5 Different Types of Power of Attorney
The following five kinds of power of attorney offer different types of protection in the event of an emergency.
1. Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney, or DPOA, is effective immediately after you sign it (unless stated otherwise), and allows your agent to continue acting on your behalf if you become incapacitated. For example, if you fall into a coma, your agent will retain the authority to make decisions whether financial or health related and sign documents for you.
A durable power of attorney ends automatically when you die. You can rescind a durable POA using a revocation of power of attorney form as long as you’re competent.
Non-Durable Power of Attorney
A non-durable power of attorney expires if you become incapacitated or die. For instance, if you fall into a coma, your agents will lose any authority previously granted. After that, only a court-appointed guardian or conservator will be able to make decisions for you.
Most of the types of power of attorney listed below can be made durable.
2. Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney, also known as an advance directive, allows you to name a health care agent — someone who will make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. In addition to a broad range of health care decisions, your agent will have authority over your:
- medical treatment
- surgical procedures
- artificial hydration and nutrition
- organ donation
- choice of health care facilities
- release of medical records
A medical power of attorney becomes effective immediately after you’ve signed it, but can only be used if you’ve been declared mentally incompetent by physician(s).
Once you’ve selected an agent, make sure they know how to sign as power of attorney on your behalf.
3. General Power of Attorney
A general power of attorney gives your agent broad power to act on your behalf — making any financial, business, real estate, and legal decisions that would otherwise be your responsibility. For example:
- managing banking transactions
- buying and selling property
- paying bills
- entering contracts
Given the extensive control it affords your agent, you may only want to use this kind of power of attorney for a short period when you physically or mentally cannot manage your affairs. For example, during an extended period of travel outside of the country. A general power of attorney expires upon your incapacitation (unless it’s durable) or death.
The powers granted under a general power of attorney may be restricted by state statutes.
Who can legally override your power of attorney depends on which type of POA you select.
4. Limited (Special) Power of Attorney
In contrast with a general power of attorney, a limited (special) power of attorney gives an agent the power to act on your behalf, but only for specific purposes. For example, a limited power of attorney can allow someone to cash checks for you. However, this person won’t be able to access or manage your finances fully.
This type of power of attorney expires once the specific task has been completed or at the time stated in the form.
You can create several limited POAs for different agents — granting each person different powers.
5. Springing Power of Attorney
A springing (or conditional) power of attorney only goes into effect if a certain event or medical condition (typically incapacitation) or event specified in the POA occurs. For example, military personnel may draft a springing power of attorney that goes into effect when they’re deployed overseas. It can end at a specified time, when you become incapacitated, or upon death.
Now that you understand the differences between the power of attorney types, you can confidently choose the right ones to include in your estate plan.