A power of attorney (or POA) is a legal document that you can use to give someone the authority to act on your behalf. Many people create their power of attorney as part of their estate plans, but in reality, it’s a document that has many uses outside of end-of-life planning.
A power of attorney can be useful in a variety of situations, from vacations and work trips to buying and selling property. Not only can it be a way for someone to act on your behalf in the event of an emergency or if you lose mental capacity, but it can also be a convenient way to handle long-distance financial matters and everyday asset management.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you only need a power of attorney when you start estate planning. You may benefit from using one now, especially if you travel frequently, you enjoy a high-risk hobby, or you’re having even minor or cosmetic surgery.
Here are some of the different scenarios in which a power of attorney can be especially useful.
When Should You Create a Power of Attorney?
Powers of attorney have a variety of underrated benefits for many common life scenarios. You should consider creating a power of attorney if you find yourself in one of the following situations:
1. Extended Travel
Extended travel is when you plan to be away for a lengthy period of time for either personal or professional reasons. This could be within your own country or across the globe.
Extended travel includes:
- Backpacking trips
- Working remotely while living somewhere other than your home
- Seasonal travel, such as snowbird vacations
- Long work trips
- Vacations longer than 30 days
When you travel for an extended period, it may be harder for you to manage everyday financial tasks such as paying your bills, depositing checks sent through the mail, or managing tenants if you have a rental property. Although some of these tasks can be done online, poor Internet access and significant time differences can make them difficult.
Giving someone you trust the legal authority to pay your bills, deposit checks for you, manage properties, or run your business on your behalf helps to ensure that your finances continue to run smoothly and that you don’t come home to overdue payments and late fees.
This is especially important if you plan to visit remote areas or know that you will not have consistent Internet or phone access during some or all of your trip.
2. International Travel
Many people travel internationally at some point, whether it’s for a sightseeing vacation or a professional trip. Although most international travel goes smoothly, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
Even if you only expect to be away for a week or two, events like lost or stolen passports and IDs, bad weather, and changing travel restrictions can throw a wrench into your travel plans, potentially causing you to stay in a foreign country longer than you had intended. Not to mention the complications you’ll face if your cash or bank cards go missing, leaving you without a way to pay for food and accommodations.
Having a POA while you travel internationally offers a layer of security should something go awry while you’re not on your home turf. It empowers someone you trust to act on your behalf to make any issues that arise easier to handle. Your attorney-in-fact can help you with responses to unforeseen circumstances, such as by canceling stolen cards, transfering funds to you, and requesting new travel documents.
3. Serious Illness Diagnosis
Being diagnosed with a serious illness is jarring, stressful, and complicated. And although it doesn’t always mean that you will lose the capacity to think and act for yourself, it never hurts to be prepared.
Serious illnesses and their treatments come with all kinds of symptoms and risks, which is where a power of attorney can help to mitigate some of the uncertainty and lack of control that you may experience.
A POA lets you name an attorney-in-fact to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated, whether temporarily or permanently. You could grant them the power to pay your medical expenses from your accounts, make renovations to your home for you to make it more accessible, and manage your day-to-day affairs like paying bills and overseeing any businesses you own.
While your illness might not be something you can control, making decisions about how you want your financial and legal life to be managed in the future can offer you some peace of mind during an otherwise uncertain time.
4. Before a Surgery
Regardless of whether a surgery is related to an illness or not, it still comes with risks. Even day surgeries and routine procedures can have complications. Putting a POA together before you go in for an operation — whether it’s cosmetic or related to an injury or illness — can help you to make sure that you have a plan if the surgery has unforeseen complications.
Even when your surgery goes well, your healing time could be longer than anticipated or you could have complications during recovery. Having an attorney-in-fact to manage your property and make financial decisions can be a huge help.
5. You Have a Dangerous Job
Some people have surprisingly dangerous jobs, and the list of dangerous professions might not all be what you’d expect. If you do one of the following to make a living, it’s considered a high-risk career:
- Police officer
- Military personnel
- Truck driver
- Construction worker
Due to dangers like large equipment, machinery, and day-to-day circumstances, these jobs all come with a much higher risk of serious injury than most. If you have a dangerous job, you know exactly what kinds of hazards you face each day. And you also know how your incapacitation could affect your family members and loved ones, which makes having a POA and naming an attorney-in-fact an easy call.
6. You’re Partaking in a High-Risk Hobby
However exhilarating, hobbies like skydiving, base jumping, rock climbing, hang gliding, and racing cars or other vehicles are all extremely dangerous. It’s impossible to ignore the risks associated with scaling a mountain or speeding around a racetrack at 200 miles per hour.
Most people can agree that part of what makes these hobbies so exciting is just how hazardous they are. If you partake in a high-risk hobby, chances are you’re fully aware of what kinds of mishaps and accidents could occur.
And just as you buy specific gear and safety equipment to protect your body, you should consider creating a power of attorney to safeguard your assets, like your bank accounts or any real estate that you own, in case of an accident. Naming an attorney-in-fact can take the stress off your family members and loved ones if your high-risk hobby doesn’t go as planned.
7. You’re Buying Property in Another State or Country
POAs don’t only help in life-threatening circumstances, they can also be useful in more practical everyday situations, like buying or selling property in another state or country.
It’s common to buy vacation properties, cottages, and second homes in other states and countries. Many people travel to warmer states in the winter or summer in seaside cottages on the coast. Or maybe you need to make a long-distance move for work or family reasons.
Managing a property sale or purchase in another state or country is complicated and can require a lot of back-and-forth travel. If you can’t do it yourself, a power of attorney can let you name someone to act for you. That means they’ll be able to do tasks like visit the property with your realtor, sign offers and legal documents, and get the keys on possession day.
An attorney-in-fact can work with your lawyer, realtor, and even your bank during a home purchase or sale, which can take a lot of stress off your plate. Just make sure you choose someone you trust and who will communicate with you throughout the whole process so you’re kept up-to-date.
8. You Can’t Be Present for a Legal Issue
If you can’t be present for a legal matter — like a lawsuit or other type of litigation — because you are out of the country, in the hospital, or otherwise unable to be present yourself, an attorney-in-fact may be able to step in for you.
It should be noted that you will still need legal representation, so you can either choose a lawyer as your attorney-in-fact or grant your attorney-in-fact the authority to hire a lawyer on your behalf.
You can even have your attorney-in-fact sign legal documents for you, which can come in handy if you’re away or unavailable.
9. You Want Someone Else to Manage Your Assets
Some people have a lot of assets to manage, like multiple properties, businesses, investments, trusts, and bank accounts. Keeping track of all of them can take up a lot of time, which is why some people choose to select an attorney-in-fact to manage them instead.
You can put restrictions on your attorney-in-fact using your POA. For example, if you only want your attorney-in-fact to be able to manage your properties but not sell them, you can specify their real estate powers.
What Can an Attorney-in-Fact Do?
When you choose an attorney-in-fact, you can either grant them the power to handle all decision-making related to your financial and legal affairs, or you can grant and restrict specific powers.
Depending on what you need your attorney-in-fact to handle, you can use your POA to allow them to:
- Buy, sell, or manage real estate
- Run your business
- Manage accounts at your financial institutions
- Hire a lawyer for you
- Make investments, like purchasing stocks or bonds
- File and pay your taxes
- Sell, store, and otherwise manage your personal property
- Access your safe deposit box
A power of attorney cannot be used for health care or medical decisions. You need to create a separate legal document for that, which is called a medical power of attorney, health care directive, health care proxy, or living will depending on your state.
How Do You Create a Power of Attorney?
There are four main types of powers of attorney.
- Durable. Durable power of attorney comes into effect immediately.
- Springing. Springing power of attorney comes into effect in the event of your incapacity.
- General. General power of attorney grants all powers to an attorney-in-fact.
- Special. Special power of attorney grants only certain powers to an attorney-in-fact.
Creating a POA Using a Lawyer
If you have a lot of assets and want to specify which powers you grant to your attorney-in-fact, it’s best to create your power of attorney document using a lawyer. They’ll help you to choose the right type of power of attorney for your needs and will be able to ensure that you grant and restrict the right powers. They can also offer legal advice specific to your state and county, which can come in handy when you need to execute your document.
Additionally, lawyers have a fiduciary duty to you, which means they are legally and ethically bound to act in your best interest.
Creating a POA Using Legal Software
If you don’t have a lot of assets and need a simple and straightforward power of attorney, you may be able to use a legal document service online. However, you’ll still need to know which type of power of attorney you need — durable, springing, general, or special — and which, if any, powers you want to restrict.
Typically, this type of software allows you to fill in a blank template so that you can customize it to your specific needs.
If you do choose to use legal software, make sure that your power of attorney will be customized to reflect the laws in your state. Otherwise, you could end up with an invalid legal document.
Executing a POA
Regardless of whether you choose to use a lawyer or software to create your POA, you may need to have your document:
- Notarized by a notary public
- Signed by all parties
- Recorded or registered
Each state and county has different requirements about how to execute your power of attorney. Talk to a lawyer or your county recording office for more information about how to finalize your POA document in your jurisdiction.
Revoking a POA
If you need to revoke or cancel a power of attorney, you can create a revocation of power of attorney, which can remove your attorney-in-fact’s powers. However, simply creating the revocation won’t necessarily do the trick. Depending on the type of power of attorney form you created and how it was executed, you may need to inform the county recording office, the attorney-in-fact, your bank, and any other person or institution your initial power of attorney was provided to.
If you create a new power of attorney, you may also be able to use it to cancel any previous power of attorney documents and revoke the powers of your attorney-in-fact. You’ll still need to go through your jurisdiction’s required process.
A power of attorney doesn’t always have to be made with a will. It can help you to navigate a number of common life scenarios outside of estate planning. If you’ve ever wondered how to manage your affairs while on an extended trip or how to protect your financial interests in light of your dangerous job or high-risk hobby, a POA could be just what you need.
Taking the time to plan ahead and consider how you would like your assets managed — and who should take care of them — can save you and your family members a lot of stress and worry if life don’t go as planned. Just make sure that you make the right type of power of attorney for your situation, and choose an attorney-in-fact who you can trust.