What is a Power of Attorney or POA?

What is a Power of Attorney aka “POA”?

Attorneys represent you in court. A Power of Attorney, or an “Attorney-in-fact”, represents you in situations where you would normally represent yourself.

Maybe they go to the bank for you, or buy life insurance on your behalf. Maybe they sign real estate closing documents for you, or maybe they stand in line for you at the DMV.

Except for specific scenarios (such as representing you in front of the IRS or in a court room), any competent person above the age of 18 can be your Power of Attorney, or attorney-in-fact, in the State of Connecticut.

What Power does a POA give? – “The powers granted by this document are broad and sweeping”

In 2016, Connecticut implemented the Connecticut Uniform Power of Attorney Act. Part of the act suggests that lawyers use the language above at the top of any power of Attorney.

There is good reason for such a warning to exist. People should be aware that a General Power of Attorney, by default, provides the agent(s) with the means to handle your affairs as if they were you. If you can go to a bank and close an account, so can the holder of a General Power of Attorney. If you can sell your house, so can the agent(s) listed in your General Power of Attorney.

A Power of Attorney can be limited to specific uses, but in Connecticut it must specifically state these limitations. For example, if you give someone Power of Attorney to act on your behalf in a Real Estate Closing, then you can limit the powers provided to that person to only acts having to do with the specific transaction or specific property.

Powers of Attorney are presumed to be “durable” unless they specifically state they are not. What does that mean? Are they printed on heavier paper stock or something? No. A Durable Power of Attorney survives the principle’s (your) incapacity. So, even after you can no longer make decisions for yourself, your Agent(s) listed in the Power of Attorney still can. Both having a Durable and a nondurable Power of Attorney has specific use cases. 

For example, let’s say you are elderly and have a caretaker handle all of your bills and assets. You probably trust that person so long as you are able to keep tabs on what she is up to. But if you start to lose your mental facilities, and can no longer speak for yourself, do you trust her to keep making those decisions? Perhaps you would prefer for that person’s authority to end once you no longer have the legal right to take that power away.

On the other hand, maybe you handle all of your own affairs currently, but you want your son to be able to handle your banking if you fall ill or somehow end up unconscious or you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. At a certain point, the law removes your ability to make decisions for yourself. Having a Durable General Power of Attorney in place ahead of time will reduce conflict among your loved ones. You will have determined who you want to handle your affairs when you cannot and that is the end of it.

To learn about the best way to express your medical treatment wishes ahead of time, read here and here. If you want to learn more about appointing someone to act on your behalf regarding medical decisions, read here.