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What is a power of attorney?

Before we explain the difference between a general and a special power of attorney, it's important to first cover what a power of attorney is.

In estate planning, a power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes another person---called an agent---to act on behalf of the person who created the power of attorney---known as the principal---in the event that the principal cannot make those decision his or herself.

It's important to note that a power of attorney can be used in non-estate planning instances. We will not be covering those in this article.

What is the difference between a general and special power of attorney

A general power of attorney gives broad authorizations to the agent. The agent may be able to make medical decisions, legal choices, or financial or business decisions.

A special power of attorney narrows what choices the agent can make. You can even make several different POAs, with different agents for each.

For example, you could create a special power of attorney which only allows your spouse to make medical decisions on your behalf. You could create another POA which would grant a business partner the ability to use certain assets to care for your business in the event you become incapacitated.

In other words, special powers of attorney allow you to be more specific.

What does "durable" power of attorney mean?

In estate planning, it's often smart to make your power of attorney "durable." This means that the power of attorney is effective even if you're incapacitated. This is sometimes called an enduring power of attorney.

Is a Power of Attorney active after someone passes away?

No. If you create a Power of Attorney, you appoint an agent to make decisions for you in the event that you can't make them yourself. Generally, these decisions are about your healthcare or your finances. If you pass away, other estate planning documents---usually a Last Will or a Trust---then take precedence. 

Can both special and general powers of attorney be made durable?

Yes. Moreover, if you choose, you can also create a springing POA, which only takes effect in the event you are incapacitated. You can read more about that in our "What is a springing power of attorney?" article.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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