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Understanding Different Types of Power of Attorney (POA)

Updated on July 31, 2012
Always be sure the power of attorney paperwork is legally accurate before signing.
Always be sure the power of attorney paperwork is legally accurate before signing. | Source

Types of Power of Attorney Can Be Confusing

I’ve often been confused about the different types of power of attorney (POA). Let me give you an example. When my grandmother was nearing the end of her life, she was transferred from the hospital to a nursing home for a few weeks. In getting all the paperwork completed, I was asked “who is your grandmother’s power of attorney.” I quickly replied “well I am.” And I was asked to bring in a copy of the POA paperwork to keep on file at the nursing home.

That same evening, I scoured through all the “special papers” I had accumulated for grandma and stored in a small fireproof box. I found the power of attorney papers that were drawn up just a few years earlier after grandma’s only daughter, my mother, passed away.

I delivered the papers to the nursing home the next day and was promptly told that they were not the ones they needed. I asked for clarification.

My papers specifically named me as the “general power of attorney” over financial and legal affairs only. Not healthcare.

Power of Attorney vs. a Living Will ~ Keep This in Mind

There is a difference between a Living Will and a Power of Attorney. A Living Will does not authorize anyone to make certain decisions such as taking someone off or keeping them on life support. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to have a Health Care Power of Attorney.

Grandma Was Almost 103 Years Old

At this point, my grandmother was incoherent often. When a person is unable to validly sign the legal power of attorney document, in most cases, a court must impose a conservatorship which means a court hearing must take place.

Since there were still occasions (although rare) when my grandmother would try to converse with us, I took the opportunity just a couple nights later to speak with her and try to explain why I needed her to sign a healthcare power of attorney form. I don't think she understood. After putting the pen in her hand and prompting her to sign the POA papers, she did, but it looked nothing like her signature. I felt bad. She had no idea what she was signing. But considering her age and the fact that she had been transferred to the hospice division, the nursing home did accept her signed papers with the understanding that there was not enough time to go through a court hearing.

The purpose of my family needing the healthcare power of attorney was to specify that we did not want grandma to receive any life-sustaining procedures that were invasive. We knew she didn’t want that, and she was giving us signs that this was the end of her great life and that she was okay. Yet since there was no DNR (do not resuscitate) papers in place, we at least needed the POA papers so that I (consulting with my sisters) could make decisions that were in grandma’s best interest.

There are different types of Power of Attorney used in the United States. It can be difficult to understand the difference; therefore, I hope to clearly explain what I have learned so that others will not be caught off guard like I was.

Clarification of Terms I Will Be Using

The person authorizing a power of attorney can be referred to as:
The person authorized to act as the power of attorney can be referred to as:
Power of Attorney paperwork will be referred to as:
Donor (of the power)
Power of Attorney

For the purposes of the information in this article, I will be using the common terms:

PRINCIPAL ~ referring to the person authorizing the power of attorney

POA ~ referring to the person authorized to act on behalf of the Principal as their Power of Attorney

POWER OF ATTORNEY ~ referring to the actual Power of Attorney paperwork

**Free Power of Attorney Forms for the United States

**Any legal form that you utilize from the internet should always be reviewed by a legal expert.

It is always a good idea to contact a lawyer to ensure a POA form is completed correctly.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a form that allows the Principal, 18 years of age or older and of sound mind, to designate a person as their POA to carry out important financial, medical or legal affairs in the case that they are unable to do so.

Although some local laws may vary, Power of Attorney documents should be stamped (notarized) by a notary public and/or include two witnesses.

More than one power of attorney can be completed. Although for each POA, separate paperwork is needed. There is no such thing as a “joint” power of attorney.

Have you designated a Power of Attorney?

See results

Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney should be completed if you wish to make sure there is an appointed person to handle your affairs in case you are incapacitated. Although it may be uncomfortable to think about, things happen such as a long-term illnesses and accidents. If you have a power of attorney in place, you will eliminate possible legal battles for your loved ones.

Can a Power of Attorney be Revoked?

Yes, it can be cancelled at any time. You must notify your POA (agent) in writing and also alert others as well such as financial institutions, doctors, etc.

Upon the death of the Principal, a power of attorney is terminated.

The Power of Attorney is an Estate Planning Tool

The above video is by Board Certified Elder Law Attorney Timothy Crawford from Wisconsin, USA. The discussion and advice is relevant for anyone interested in obtaining a power of attorney.

Main Types of Power of Attorney With Various Purposes

As I’ve mentioned, the different types of power of attorney can be confusing. If you are unsure of what will work best for your situation, please obtain legal advice. The five types I will discuss here are the most common. Please note that there are other types that are not as common such as a power of attorney for care and custody of minor children.

1. General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney allows the POA full legal authority to conduct business related to the Principal’s assets and financial matters, with no restraints or limited scope. Without a “durable” specification (see below), the general power of attorney is terminated if the Principal becomes incompetent or dies.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

Specific language is very important when naming a power of attorney. Any type of power of attorney can be made durable.

The durability provision allows the power of attorney to remain in effect if the Principal becomes incompetent. In other words, if you simply have a general power of attorney without making it “durable,” it is voided if you become incompetent. With the durable provision, the power of attorney continues to remain in effect allowing the POA to continue to act in the best interest of the Principal.

Very important: making a power of attorney durable allows the POA to carry out transactions whether you are incompetent or not. This means there is a possibility that the POA could do things behind your back that you are not aware of. You can, however, specify that the power of attorney does not go into effect unless you are declared mentally incompetent by a doctor.

3. Health Care Power of Attorney

The health care power of attorney names a POA to make health care decisions on behalf of the Principal if the Principal becomes mentally incompetent, unconscious or in some way incapacitated. This could include making the decision whether the Principal will receive life-sustaining procedures.

In this case, the Principal does not give up their right to discuss and make decisions regarding their own health care if they still have the capacity to do so.

4. Special or Limited Power of Attorney

A limited or special power of attorney gives the POA the power to act on behalf of the Principal in specific situations only. These situations could include just one specific transaction or several acts to be carried out by the POA.

For instance, the Principal gives the POA permission to act on their behalf for a specific period of time while they will be out of the country. Or the POA is named specifically to handle all real estate transactions for the Principal.

5. Springing Power of Attorney

If the Principal does not feel comfortable granting power of attorney to someone while they are healthy, this document does not take effect until a specified date, condition or event. The power of attorney would “spring” into effect at that time.

Some triggers that could be named to "spring" the power of attorney into effect might be a specific date or age. In addition, it could take effect only when the Principal is certified incapacitated by a doctor.

Please note that a Springing Power of Attorney may not be accepted in all states.

In Conclusion

There are various types of power of attorney to serve your specific needs. It is recommended that everyone is proactive in obtaining a power of attorney early in life before something life-altering occurs. Best Wishes!

This is Sharyn’s Slant

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to take the place of proper legal advice. The intent is to help others understand the importance of obtaining a power of attorney for financial matters as well as health care. If you want to be sure that you have the choice of naming a power of attorney while you are of sound mind, as long as you are at least 18 years old, you should consider this now. Laws and specifications regarding a power of attorney may differ from state to state. Please be sure to obtain legal advice when completing these documents.


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    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      6 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Lyns ~ thank you so much for your feedback. I'm glad this was helpful to you.

    • lyns profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Thanks for this information it is very needed, I appreciate this article, ....lyns 12/12/2013

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      HouseBuyersUS ~ Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment. Hope you enjoy your weekend!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi rebecca ~ I do hope this information will help many not be so confused about the different types of Power of Attorney. And as you mentioned, I hope it gets people thinking about making sure they have their own things in order. Thank you so much for your feedback!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Tills ~ Thank you, I really appreciate your feedback, especially since you are familiar with Power of Attorney and feel I have covered the major aspects. Thank you also for your votes.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Cyndi ~ So, you started talking to you hubby about this? That's a really good thing. Obviously people don't think about things like Power of Attorney, especially the younger they are. It can be really important no matter what age you are. As long as you are 18, you can create a POA. I appreciate your feedback, thank you!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Vicki ~ I also know a lot of people who get confused about Power of Attorney, including myself. Thank you so much for your feedback.


    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is informative and important info on POA. I am sure this will serve many people well. I know it sure gets me thinking! What a nice chart. Looks great!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      I too am familiar with the POA having worked for an attorney. You did an excellent job with a detailed description highlighting all the important aspects of each type.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      What a comprehensive, fabulous article. It made my husband and I start talking about it. We know what our wishes are, but egads, I'm the only one who has that stuff even inputted into a will. This is such great information for EVERYONE to know. Awesome, awesome hub.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      8 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Valuable information! So well done. Good job. I know a lot of people get confused about this.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Tammy ~ I hope this is helpful to many people since it can be so confusing to understand POA's. Thanks so much for stopping by.


    • tammyswallow profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      This is really well constructed and easy to understand. The power of attorney is so complicated. I am sure this will really help many people. It is also a great reminder to get this paper work done!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Susan H. ~ I'm sure it is difficult to carry out a medical POA. I know for me, anything that comes up like this in the future, I would definitely consult my sisters, even though I am the POA for our father at this time. I do hope that people realize the importance of obtaining a POA for financial as well as health care purposes. Thank you SH, I appreciate your feedback.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hey TT ~ I am so glad you appreciated this. Thanks so much for mentioning the military. I should add something about that. Most people think POA is something you obtain when you are older and closer to retirement. And actually, POA's should be done after you turn 18 years old. Thanks so much for your important feedback.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Yvonne ~ Yes, Power of Attorney can be different in many other countries. People need to do their homework since it can be quite confusing. Thank you for compliments. I appreciate you stopping by!


    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi Sharyn!

      I had medical power of attorney with my mom. It was a difficult thing when it came time to put it into action, but I am glad my family had come together with my mother to have the different POA's in place. My sister took care of the financial POA. Neither of us made a decision without consulting with our other brothers and sisters.

      Very important information. All need to be aware of the legalities of taking charge of a loved ones financial and physical well being. Votes and shares.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Kathy ~ I agree. Being made POA for someone is definitely a vote of confidence and something to feel honored and good about. It's kind of interesting how it has all worked out in my family. I believe I was chosen as POA for my grandmother because I am the oldest granddaughter. There really is no other reason because my sisters and I would all do an honorable job as POA. I am also the POA for our father, but I would definitely consult my sisters and not make decisions without them. I do understand when you say "easing into the position of parent." I felt like that with my grandmother. I wish I had that opportunity with my mom but she left us quickly. Thank you so much my friend for your wonderful feedback.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Maria ~ gosh you always know how to make me feel good. Yes, we were lucky when all that happened with Grandma. It was a very stressful time and if we would have had to add a court hearing on top of everything, that would have been less time we could be spending with grandma. Thank you for your great feedback. Hugs right back atcha!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Josh ~ I am so glad this hub helps clear up some confusion for you. I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Thank you so much!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Billy ~ Thank you so much for the compliments. I appreciate you stopping by!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi SusanZ ~ I am glad that this article prompted you to make sure everything is correct since you are the POA for your mother in law. The most important thing to make sure is that it also covers health care decisions if that is what your MIL wishes. Thank you so much for your feedback, votes and sharing!


    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      8 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Most excellent information, Sharyn. I've had to run the whole power of attorney gauntlet with both a boyfriend and a husband that were in the military. It was required before they shipped out to have someone stateside be able to act on their behalf while they were deployed. This is wonderful information and would have come in so handy at those times. :)

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      I found this very interesting Sharon, even though POA is different again in the UK (and in fact Scottish law isn't even the same as English.)

      Like Maria I liked the way you started with your personal experience, and thought this was very well written.

    • Lucky Cats profile image


      8 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Sharyn, this is really a well written and very very helpful hub. I feel as if I could walk right into my Attorney''s office and state exactly what I wanted. I actually had the Durable Power of Attorney for both my parents; which was a vote of confidence which I was, forever, thankful for. My mother passed quickly and unexpectedly but, it happened and I was able to pick up the "ball" and run w/it...all papers were current, notorized and functional. With my father, it was the same thing...and he lived w/me the last several years of his life during which time he declined and I eased into the position of "parent" for him and his financial affairs, as well as Medical determinations. It is a huge responsibility but, one which I felt honored to have been trusted with. Your help here is immeasurable for those who have not yet, gone through've really done a wonderful thing for your followers and friends. All ups but funny...Beautiful because you took the time to lay this out for us. Kathy

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      8 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Sharon,

      I love how you took your personal experience and have developed this readable and comprehensive breakdown so others can be informed/ prepared.

      It is wonderful that the agency worked with you/ family in an individualized and dignified manner so your Grandmom's wishes could be respected.

      Excellent job on this... Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Very informative hub! I have always been confused over this topic, so I am glad I ran into a clear and detailed presentation by one of my hub friends! Thanks for sharing this hub Sharon!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've had some experience with this and you did an excellent job of explaining the different types. Wish I had this with me back in 2003. Great job!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have power of attorney for my mother in law. After reading your hub I think I'll do some investigating and researching to make sure everything is the way that it should be. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

      Voting up++and sharing.


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