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Power of Attorney Overview

A power of attorney is a legal instrument that individuals create and sign; it gives someone else the authority to make certain decisions and act for the signer. The person who has these powers is called an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.” The signer is the “principal.” Merely because the word “attorney” is used does not mean that the agent must be a lawyer.

Even if principals have delegated authority to an agent through a power of attorney, they can still make important decisions for themselves. But, their agents may act for them as well. Their agents must follow directions as long as they are capable of making decisions for themselves. A power of attorney is simply one way to share authority with someone else.

As a principal, if the principal’s decisions conflict with those of the agent, the principal’s decision will govern, assuming that the agent confers with the principal prior to taking an action. Be aware that if the agent has acted on the principal’s behalf and acted within the scope of authority granted by the power of attorney, then the principal may be obligated by the terms and conditions of his actions. If the agent does not respect the principal’s wishes, the principal should revoke the power of attorney.

Principals can revoke their agent’s authority at any time if they become dissatisfied with the agent’s performance. If they do not revoke a power of attorney themselves, it will automatically expires upon their death. The power of attorney is not a substitute for a will. Upon the principal’s death, either the will or the state’s law of intestacy will govern the distribution of the estate.

Inside Power of Attorney Overview