Durable Power of Attorney: What You Need to Know

Who needs a Power of Attorney?

Everyone! This is a basic legal document that everyone should have – it’s your “go-to” when there’s an emergency. Specifically, a good time to think about getting a Durable Power of Attorney is in these situations:

  • You’re planning to travel.
  • You’re 18 years old and going on your senior trip.
  • You’re in your early twenties and moving away for college.
  • You participate in activities that could result in a serious injury, like skydiving, rock climbing, SCUBA diving, parasailing, etc.
  • You’re recently divorced, separated, or widowed and your previous spouse is listed as your agent in your current Durable Power of Attorney.
  • You’ve been diagnosed with a serious condition or disease, like MS, ALS, or cancer.
  • Dementia and/or Alzheimer’s runs in your family (do not wait until you’ve been diagnosed).
  • You found a Durable Power of Attorney on the internet.
  • Your agent in your current Durable Power of Attorney is no longer available.
  • You currently don’t have a Durable Power of Attorney.

Answers to the Most Common Questions

  • What is a Power of Attorney? A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives another person, usually your adult child or spouse, the authority to act as your attorney-in-fact or legal agent (“agent”).
  • Does my agent have to be an attorney? No. Don’t be confused by the name of the document; any adult can be your agent.
  • What does “durable” mean? Most people have a Durable Power of Attorney (“DPOA”). The term “durable” means that the Power of Attorney becomes effective when a doctor has declared that you’re mentally or physically unable to handle your affairs (“incapacitated”).
  • What if a Power of Attorney isn’t durable? A “regular” Power of Attorney is typically used for a specific purpose. After the purpose has been fulfilled, it stops working. For example, if you have a last minute out-of-town business trip and will need someone to sign important documents on your behalf while you’re gone, a Power of Attorney will allow your agent to sign for you. Once the documents are signed, the Power of Attorney is no longer effective.
  • Are there different types of Durable Powers of Attorney? Yes. There are two types of Durable Powers of Attorney: one for finances and one for healthcare.
  • Why would I need a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances? With a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, your agent will have the authority to manage your finances when you become incapacitated. If you’re injured in a serious accident that results in you being in coma, your Durable Power of Attorney will “kick in” and your agent will be able to pay your bills, access investment accounts, and manage other financial matters until you are able to do so on your own. It will also allow your agent to purchase property, sell property, and buy cars .
  • Is there anything a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances won’t allow? Yes. A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances will not allow your agent to make gifts (like giving another relative your money or property), and it will not allow your agent to change your estate planning documents. If you don’t want your agent to be able to purchase or sell property or buy cars, your document can be tailored to fit your specific rules and goals.
  • Why would I need a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare? A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare will allow your agent to make medical decisions and access your medical information while you’re in a coma. If your surgeon or physician need to consult with someone prior to conducting a procedure, your agent will be able to discuss the situation with your doctor. For instance, if your agent knows that you would never want a blood transfusion, she or he will be able to make that decision by instructing the doctor of your wishes.
  • Is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare different from an Advance Healthcare Directive? Yes. An Advance Healthcare Directives (sometimes referred to as “Living Wills”) are only used when you’re in a vegetative state and there is no hope of recovery. Your Advance Healthcare Directive will instruct your doctor on whether or not you want to remain on life support.
  • What happens to my Durable Powers of Attorney when I die? To say bluntly, your Durable Powers of Attorney will die with you. Most people think that Powers of Attorney continue to work after someone dies, but they’re actually thinking of the “Personal Representative” named in a Will. Basically, a Durable Power of Attorney is intended to give your agent the ability to make the same decisions you would make if you weren’t incapacitated. Once you die, your decision-making ability dies, too – so does your Durable Power of Attorney.
  • Who should be my agent? Anyone over the age of 18 can be your agent. The key is choosing someone who you trust immensely. The person named as your agent in your Finances document does not have to be the same person named in your Healthcare document. If your spouse can handle the bills when you’re incapacitated, but would be too emotional discussing medical procedures with your doctor, you should name another person. Or if your brother is bad with money, but he handled your parents’ healthcare situations really well before they passed away, then he might be a good choice only as your Healthcare agent. Be sure to choose someone who is good at managing money and someone who will honor your medical decisions.


  1. geoff on September 28, 2017 at 10:31 am


  2. Riley Ellis on September 29, 2017 at 9:03 am

    For health situations, would you choose between a living will or durable power of attorney, or would you do both?

  3. Charly Neel on September 30, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Great info to know- I didn’t realize that a power of attorney would expire after the specific duty they were assigned to was fulfilled!

  4. Mabel Smith on October 4, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Can my agent with Durable Powers of Attorney be the same person as the representative in my Will?

  5. Daniella Gordon on October 9, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Is there a separate healthcare directive for mental health? For example, if someone became incapacitated by dementia or a similar mental disease, would they need to fill out a separate directive?