Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is an instrument by which one person (the principal) grants to another (the agent) the power to perform certain acts on his or her behalf. Two types of powers of attorney are common in the estate planning field, namely the medical power of attorney and the durable power of attorney.

The Medical Power of Attorney

The medical power of attorney grants the agent the power to make health care decisions for the principal if he or she is unable to make them. The agent may exercise his or her authority only if the principal’s attending physician certifies that, in the physician’s opinion, the principal lacks the capacity to make health care decisions. The principal can revoke the power of attorney at any time, orally or in writing, and regardless of the principal’s mental state. The medical power of attorney may be signed by two witnesses, one of which is not:

  1. the person designated as agent;
  2. related to the principal by blood or marriage;
  3. an employee of the principal’s health care facility who is providing direct care to the principal or who is involved in the financial affairs of the facility;
  4. the principal’s attending physician or an employee of the physician;
  5. the principal’s heirs; or
  6. a person who would have a claim against the principal’s estate upon his or her death.

In lieu of signing in the presence of the witnesses, the principal may sign the medical power of attorney and have the signature acknowledged before a notary public.

The Durable Power of Attorney

The second type of power of attorney is the durable power of attorney. This instrument grants authority to a designated agent to manage the principal’s property on his or her behalf. It can be distinguished from the medical power of attorney which relates to health care decisions rather than to decisions concerning the management of property.

The principal can either grant the agent one or more specific powers or grant the agent all of the powers listed in the power of attorney form. In addition, the principal can elect to have the power of attorney become effective immediately upon signing it or only upon the principal’s future disability or incapacity.

The durable power of attorney must be notarized, but it need not be witnessed.

The forms of both the medical power of attorney and the durable power of attorney are prescribed by statute. You should consult with our experienced estate planning attorneys if you desire to have either of these documents prepared for you.