Power of Attorney 101

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Reese Phillips
  • 934th Airlift Wing legal officer
I'm sure most of you are at least somewhat familiar with what a Power of Attorney is and what it can be used for. A POA is nothing more than a grant of authority by one person (principal) to another person (agent) so the agent may act on the principal's behalf and in some instances legally bind the principal.

When I'm speaking with legal assistance clients, however, I realize that there is a lot of confusion regarding the various kinds of POAs and the terminology associated with them. POAs vary in purpose from your medical care to your day-to-day affairs and responsibilities. POAs are typically classified as general or special. As the name implies, a GPOA is a broad grant of agency authority, whereas a SPOA is for a limited purpose.

Most states have statutory boilerplate forms for GPOAs allowing agents to complete a laundry list of applicable tasks/transactions such as banking transactions, personal and real property transactions, insurance transactions, and government document transactions. These forms usually allow the principal to pick and chose from the list or check a box allowing the agent to do every task on the form. Some familiar SPOAs are the dependent care POAs you complete for your family care plan, the IRS form you fill out for someone to complete your taxes, or the SPOA you complete for your spouse to transact with the finance office on base. POAs can also be "springing" or "durable." A springing POA only goes into effect if something happens, e.g. you become incapacitated.  A durable POA goes into effect upon your signature and survives your incapacitation. Remember, all POAs terminate upon the death of the principal as you can't give someone authority to act on your behalf if you no longer exist.

Finally, while the language in a typical GPOA is sufficient to cover most issues that arise, many times third parties are reluctant to deal with an agent holding a GPOA. This is especially true for real estate transactions. I usually advise people to contact the title company handling the closing to figure out exactly what the title company will require in advance, rather than arguing with them about the validity of the military GPOA (one obtained through military legal assistance) at the closing table. There is a Federal law that says states can't require military POAs to be in any particular form, but there is no law requiring a third-party to accept a military POA.

I encourage you to explore the Air Force Legal Assistance website as it has SPOA questionnaires for many of the circumstances you may face. The website can be found at:https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil/lass/lass.html or by simply searching "Air Force Legal Assistance Website" in Google.