What is a Power of Attorney?

Power of attorney allows a person to designate another individual to speak and act on his behalf in financial or medical situations. You may appoint any trustworthy individual of consenting age with power of attorney responsibilities. You do not lose decision-making rights when you appoint a representative, you only allow someone to act on your behalf. Power of attorney rights and responsibilities depend on state laws and the type of agreement made.


The two most commons types of power of attorney involve medical or financial situations. The designated person acts as your representative in all matters established under a written agreement. A person may authorize another to pay bills, access bank accounts, or handle tax situations or other financial affairs in her name. Medical or durable power of attorney allows a specified person to make medical decisions in cases of mental or physical incapacitation.


Generally, power of attorney authorization must be a notarized document. State requirements regarding documentation may vary. In cases where an individual is deemed unfit or incapable of making health or financial decisions, the court may assign guardianship or power of attorney. When authorizing power of attorney responsibilities, individuals may specify instructions for different situations or limit power of attorney rights. You must be deemed "of sound mind" to create a power of attorney.

Time Frame

You may enable or revoke power of attorney at any time if you are mentally or physically capable of making the decision. You may specify a set time frame in a notarized power of attorney document. Power of attorney responsibilities end when the principal designator dies. With married couples, designation may end through divorce, separation or annulment. Additionally, you may specify that power of attorney responsibilities begin when you become incapacitated.

Rights and Responsibilities

A representative must make decisions in the best interest of the principal and fulfill a person's wishes regarding finances or health care decisions. While the power of attorney allows for decision making in some health care situations, a person's will or expressed preferences must be considered prior to taking action. The person with power of attorney can make financial decisions and deal with creditors, but he is not liable for the designators debts. Unless authorized, the person with power of attorney may not alter an existing trust, establish a new trust or change designation of heirs, property or other contracts before or after a person's death.