If you’re an active-duty military member, it’s a good idea to have a power of attorney in your estate plan. A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that authorizes another person to act on your behalf. The person you choose to act on your behalf is called your “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.”
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Military service members are often stationed overseas, away from their military spouses and dependents, for lengthy periods of time. While it is unpleasant to think about, the nature of the military lifestyle often involves risky situations that could lead to injury or incapacitation. Having a power of attorney helps ensure that your financial matters and other responsibilities don’t fall behind if anything happens to you while deployed. Certain powers of attorney also allow you to appoint someone to make your health care decisions if you cannot do so yourself.
This article provides an overview of the different types of powers of attorney documents and the benefits they can provide for military members and military families.
Types of Powers of Attorney
It’s essential to know the difference between the types of POAs to choose the one that’s right for you. When you draft a POA, you need to decide whether to make a general power of attorney (also called a financial power of attorney) or specific power of attorney (also called a special power of attorney or limited power of attorney) and whether you want the power of attorney to be durable or springing.
What Powers Do You Want To Give Your Agent?
Based on your particular needs and situation, you may want to give your agent broad or limited powers to act on your behalf. The following types of POAs grant different levels of power to your agent:
- General Power of Attorney: General POAs grant very broad powers to your agent. With this document, your agent has the legal right to perform almost any action on your behalf (unless you specifically exclude the action in the document). This typically means your agent can enter into contracts, manage your bank accounts and other financial institution transactions, buy and sell real estate, file tax returns, and handle other business and financial matters.
- Specific Power of Attorney: Specific POAs grant limited powers to your agent. The document requires you to detail the specific transactions and situations over which your agent has the authority to act on your behalf. For example, you may give your agent the power to sell your home or manage a specific bank account. The agent has no authority to perform any action that is not specifically listed in the document.
When Do You Want Your Agent’s Powers To Take Effect?
Once you’ve decided how much power you want to grant your agent, you also need to determine when you want your agent’s authority to begin and end.
- Durable Power of Attorney: When a POA is durable, it takes effect immediately and remains in effect if you become incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions. Both general and specific POAs can be made durable. If you don’t include language indicating that your general or specific POA is durable, the documents will become ineffective upon your incapacity. Durable POAs are helpful for your family members if you become incapacitated because a court won’t have to appoint a conservator to make decisions on your behalf.
- Springing Power of Attorney: A springing POA is similar to a durable POA, but instead of taking effect immediately upon signing the document, it only “springs” into action upon the happening of an event specified in the document. Usually, the triggering event is your incapacitation or inability to manage your own affairs.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that allows you to appoint someone (called your health care agent or proxy) to make medical care and treatment decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your health care wishes yourself. The document is durable, so it stays in effect if you become incapacitated. General POAs usually do not give an agent the power to make health care decisions (only business or financial), so having both in your estate plan is a good idea.
Ready To Create Your Power of Attorney?
After you’ve decided which POA document best fits your needs as a military member, you must create the document and formalize it according to your state’s laws. Most states require you to sign the document in front of two witnesses. Other states also require you to visit a notary to make your document legally binding.
FindLaw has all the estate planning tools and forms you need to create a power of attorney customized to your needs. Our do-it-yourself Financial Power of Attorney Form lets you choose whether to give your agent general or specific powers and when you want the powers to take effect. You can also use our Health Care Directive and Living Will Form to appoint a health care agent to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Each form is state-specific and includes instructions on finalizing the POA according to your state’s requirements.
If you still have questions or need help deciding which power of attorney is right for you, visit a military legal services office or contact a private estate planning attorney in your area for legal advice.