The general power of attorney form is a legal document that’s created by a person called a principal. It grants another individual, known as the agent, authority to manage the financial and other matters of the principal. The powers given can be specific and narrow or they can be broad and extend to almost every area of the principal’s life.
The general power of attorney is different from the durable power of attorney in one key area - if the principal is incapacitated or declared incompetent then the general power of attorney ceases to function.
Specific power of attorney
Even though the names are used interchangeably, in many cases the power of attorney documents are different. For example, a durable power of attorney is similar to a general power of attorney but has more authority.
Real estate - the principal can grant the agent the authority to buy, sell, lease, and otherwise manage real estate. In this case, real estate includes residential and commercial property, undeveloped land, and condominiums.
Payments - The agent has the authority to collect payments from third parties as well as make payments to third parties to the principal
Bank accounts - The principal grants the agent authority to make withdrawals and perform other actions related to their bank account.
Tangible personal property - the agent is granted the ability to purchase, sell, operate, maintain, and otherwise interact with moveable personal property such as vehicles, furniture, jewelry, etc.
Gifts - the agent may give gifts to themselves not to exceed the federal exclusion for gift taxes in a calendar year. Gifts may also be given to others on behalf of the principal.
Taxes - An agent may be granted the authority to prepare and file taxes for the principal. There is a separate IRS statutory form that may be used if this is the only power that is to be granted to the agent.
Borrowing/lending - the agent may be granted the power to borrow money to meet the obligations of the principal or lend money.
Contracts - The agent can be granted the authority to sign contracts on behalf of the principal.
Business - If stipulated, the agent may act on behalf of the principal to perform all business activities that the principal would otherwise perform such as creating processes, hiring or firing staff, entering into contracts, purchasing equipment and supplies, etc.
Insurance - The agent may communicate with insurance companies or brokers and handle insurance claims.
Estate - the principal grants the agent authority to manage the affairs of their estate, succession planning, and even trusts on their behalf.
General authority - The agent can act in almost any situation as if they were the principal. This is sometimes referred to as the principal’s alter ego.
It’s important to note that a power of attorney form can be useful to a wide range of people. There is no right or wrong time to start preparing. The main point is that if it can benefit you then creating one using our simple power of attorney document generator may be a viable option for you.
With that being said, here are some common scenarios where an executed power of attorney is useful:
The principal is a frequent traveler and has a business that requires their presence often
The conditions under which you work are hazardous and you may need help performing certain tasks in the case of an emergency.
You’re still competent and conscious but have been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness
The principal is the owner of a business or property that needs to be maintained when they aren’t available
A specific person that you trust is available and your current workload is unsustainable
As part of end-of-life estate planning so that things get done more quickly and there’s a smoother transition
There are many classifications and subclassifications of power of attorney forms. The most important are general, limited, durable, and ordinary.
General POA: This type of power of attorney gives the agent the ability to manage all financial and property-related affairs. Unless otherwise stated, the agent has general authority to act on your behalf as your alter ego.
Limited POA: This form makes it so that the agent appointed is limited in the types of decisions they can make. For example, it may limit them to decisions about bank accounts or insurance policies.
Ordinary POA: Like the general POA, the ordinary POA remains in effect while the principal is considered competent and hasn’t been incapacitated by an injury or illness. It may not have as much authority to act as a general or durable POA.
Durable POA: This is one of the most powerful financial instruments available and it gives the agent the authority to continue to act even if the principal is incapacitated or considered incompetent. It is terminated immediately if the principal passes away unless there are preparations that need to be made before the burial.
Motor vehicle POA - this power of attorney allows the principal the ability to appoint an agent that can handle matters related to their car. It’s required if you want to buy a car and have another person register for you.
An attorney-in-fact is an important person in your life so the decision about who it should be is not something that can be taken lightly. At the very least, they should have a proven track record of accountability and trustworthiness in their professional or personal lives. In addition to your personal preferences, there are specific requirements before someone can be made an agent
They must be above the age of majority in the relevant state
They cannot be bankrupt at the time of appointment
There should be no conflicting interests and they cannot be the owner or employee of the principal lives or gets treatment
It is possible to name more than one attorney-in-fact and give each one different types of authority. Or, you can choose a primary and secondary successor if the agent is unable or unwilling to perform certain actions.
For example, the first agent is out of town so the secondary agent takes over. The first agent may be uncomfortable with their ability to do something such as buy real estate so they refuse the request and the second agent takes over. It’s simply another level of insurance for unforeseen circumstances.
Keep in mind that fiduciaries (lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, etc.) may also be named as the agent-in-fact.
One of the first steps in getting a duly completed power of attorney is to decide on what kind of authority you will provide for the agent. The general power of attorney allows you to choose from over a dozen separate powers and even add in special powers as you see fit. Because of this, a lot of thought should be given to how you’ll structure the document.
In addition to choosing what powers the agent has, this is a good time to select your agent. That’s because the person chosen may impact which powers are granted. After making a selection, it’s possible to realize that they’re not a good fit for certain powers so those need to be withheld.
Now that you know which powers are important to you and who your agent is, you can start the process of drafting the power of attorney. There are two ways to go about it. First, you can download a free document from this page or you can scroll up and use our power of attorney form creator. We recommend the second option because you’ll just need to answer a few questions and your information will be filled without errors and the process will be much easier for you. Once you’re done with the POA creator, you’ll have a chance to review it before downloading. After it has been downloaded, be sure to print it with at least three copies so that you can sign them all at once. Initial next to the relevant powers and prepare for signing.
The signing requirements for a general power of attorney vary by state. Some states require two witnesses, some require a notary public to notarize, and others require both. You can view the specific state requirements here. With that being said, it’s always a good idea to get it signed by both witnesses and a notary public because it will strengthen the legality of the document. Of course, the signature of the principal is also needed.
After signing, share the original copies with the agent(s) you’ve chosen and keep your copy in a secure location. Be sure to inform a few people where you’ve kept the document so that they’ll be able to locate it in case of an emergency.
They’re similar in terms of the authority that each one gives the agent. The major difference is the fact that if something happens to the principal such as an injury that incapacitates them, the general POA would cease to function. A durable power of attorney continues even if the principal is declared incapacitated or incompetent.
By default, it will last indefinitely until certain conditions that can terminate a general power of attorney are met. Those conditions include when you create a revocation form for it, when the principal dies, when there’s a specific time frame stipulated in the POA, or when the principal becomes incapacitated.
Yes. You have complete control over the power of attorney you create and can amend or revoke it at any time and in any way you see fit. While amending the power of attorney is possible, it’s considered best practice to create a new power of attorney form so that there won’t be any added complexity. If you decided to amend the POA, you should send a notice to all of the institutions that have dealt with the agent. If you revoke it then a revocation notice should also be sent.
As long as the individual is of the age of majority when the power of attorney is created, is of sound mind, and understands the options available to them - they can create a power of attorney. Keep in mind that the general power of attorney is a powerful financial tool that shouldn’t be used if it’s not understood so even though anyone can create it, not everyone should.
All financial institutions are supposed to accept a general power of attorney because they’re governed by duly passed and valid laws. In practice, some financial institutions will demand that you go through additional steps before they’ll accept the power of attorney or ask for you to fill its company-specific power of attorney document.
It’s a misconception to think that a spouse has access to all of your property and financial accounts. If the principal maintains separate accounts and property in their name alone then the spouse doesn’t automatically have access to them. If you would like to change that and give them access then a general power of attorney is needed.
As long as an agent acts in good faith, prudently, in the best interests of the principal, and is accountable, they cannot be held liable for their actions. This is the case even if their actions end up negatively impacting the principal. That is why it’s so important to choose a principal wisely.
If an agent is negligent, does something illegal, or is not acting in the best interest of the principal then they may be held liable for those actions.
Most states have provisions in their laws that allow out-of-state general power of attorneys to function. Some powers may not be automatically transferable and the principal will need to go through certain processes before they are recognized in the state where the POA isn’t domiciled.
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