If you ask around about powers of attorney, you will hear all sorts of information, and lots of it contradicts itself. So, what is the real deal? When do you need a power of attorney, what kind do you need, etc? Every person has a different situation, so every person has a different answer. The more you know about powers of attorney, the better the chances that you’ll have the right one when you need it.
Pro tip: Lots of people think they should only have powers of attorney when they are expecting a deployment. I disagree, as do most professionals I know. Deployments can happen in a matter of hours, and there are plenty of other times when someone might be unavailable – trainings, travel, or even just a crazy work schedule.
A power of attorney is a document giving one person the right to act on behalf of another person. These are commonly used in military situation because the service member is not always available to take care of their personal business.
The simplest document is a general power of attorney. A general power of attorney doesn’t include many specifics and gives a broad range of powers. General powers of attorney are more likely to be misused, so many companies prefer that you have a specific power of attorney that has the details of a particular account or transaction.
Which One Do You Need?
There are two issues that should help you decide whether you need a general power of attorney or specific powers of attorney.
First, what type of power of attorney does the company/person/organization to whom you are presenting the power of attorney want? It is always, 100%, up to the discretion of the person accepting the power of attorney whether they will accept it or not. If they want a specific power of attorney, that’s what you need. If they want it to say X, Y, or Z, then it needs to say those things. If they want their own specific form, you need to use that form. If you know that you are going to be doing a transaction with a power of attorney, ask before you get it written up. Some companies even ask that you submit the POA in advance for them to review and attach to your file. It’s worth the effort to call your major companies (banks, insurance, etc.) to be sure you won’t run into trouble when you need to use your power of attorney.
Second, how much power do you need to give? You want to ensure that you’re only granting the amount of power that is necessary to complete the required transaction. There is no need to give your friend a general power of attorney over your whole life so that he or she can sell a car for you. But you may want to give a spouse or truly trusted friend more power to deal with unexpected events.
What Kind of Specific Power of Attorney?
There are nearly an unlimited number of different types of specific powers of attorney. I recommend that you have one for each of these situations that applies to you:
- each piece of real estate
- each vehicle
- each credit card
- each insurance policy
- military housing
- civilian housing
- to talk to the base finance folks
- family care plans/in loco parentis
- DEERS/ID cards
- passports, if you have minor children
- household goods/moving
- pet care
- specific powers of attorney recommended for specific countries, if living OCONUS
- anything else you can imagine.
It’s a long list, and the legal office may roll their eyes (but not as much as they used to), but this is one situation where you really want to be over-prepared. I have seen too many people stuck in frustrating situations that could have been 100% avoided by having the right powers of attorney, like a friend who was buying a house and the closing company decided that they didn’t like the power of attorney that she had. Or the friend who didn’t update her powers of attorney, and her husband deployed on one of those crazy come-home-for-four-hours and leave for months deployments, and was given notice to vacate her rented house the very next day. Or me, who couldn’t pay my husband’s credit card bill because I didn’t have the right form.
Where Do You Get A Power of Attorney?
Military service members can use their installation’s legal services office to prepare powers of attorney, basic wills, and other basic legal documents. Hours and services vary, so be sure to check out their website or call – many require appointments.
You can also use a civilian provider to prepare your powers of attorney.
Another option, though I wouldn’t recommend it, is to write your own powers of attorney and have them notarized.
Questions? Comments? Experiences? I love to hear them!