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What can your power of attorney do?

A power of attorney is a person that has legal authority to make some types of decisions or to act on your behalf. Power of attorney is usually obtained in one of two ways. Either you grant the POA through a legal document or someone seeks it through the court because he or she believes it is in your best interest.

When you have granted power of attorney yourself via a legal document, then the authority vested in the agent you identify is limited to what authority you granted in the document. For example, you might create a power of attorney that gives someone the legal ability to assist you with your financial accounts. This person would then be able to access and use your checking or savings accounts or manage your investment funds. The law requires that this person handles such matters in your best interest.

Many times, power of attorney authority does not come into play until certain conditions are met. For example, if you create a health care power of attorney so someone can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated, then the POA would not be active unless you were unable to make those decisions for yourself.

There have been cases where a family member who was named in a power of attorney document brought their own legal action because he or she believed the person in question was not able to make his or her own decisions. In other cases, no POA was named by an individual, but a family member sought POA status through the court for the same reason.

A POA designation in your estate plan is meant to provide protection for you. Working with a legal professional can help you create a detailed POA document that keeps others out of decision-making until the appropriate time.

Source: Money Crashers, "What Is Power of Attorney & How to Get It – Types," Mark Theoharis, accessed June 17, 2016

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