Powers of attorney can be very useful, but they can also be very risky if you don’t understand the rights of control that you are transferring. The person you assign to control your assets can easily misuse that power—he or she could rob you blind and be gone before you or anybody else finds out. Someone you name in your medical power of attorney can make life-and death decisions about your health care. Choosing the right person to act on your behalf is a serious decision and should not be taken lightly.
Who can sign a power of attorney?
Any adult who is mentally competent can sign a power of attorney. A person is mentally competent if he understands what property he controls, what powers over property he is giving to someone else, and who will exercise those powers after the power of attorney is signed. The person who signs a power of attorney is called the principal. The person who is being assigned the power to act for the principal is called the agent.
Who can be an agent in a power of attorney?
Any adult can be named as an agent under a legal power of attorney. They do not need to be members of the principal’s family. Remember that no one can be forced to act as agent; lawyers recommend that you consult with the person you choose before you name him or her as agent.
More than one person can be named as agent, making them “co-agents.” If co-agents are named, the power of attorney should specify whether each agent can act alone, by a majority, or only unanimously. If there are enough trustworthy people who can serve, it is a good idea to name successor agents to act if the first person named is unavailable.
You alone are responsible for naming the person who will act on your behalf under a power of attorney. There are horror stories of power of attorney agents gone bad, so think it through carefully. And if necessary, talk to an estate planning or elder-law attorney who can help tailor powers of attorney to minimize risks.
For more information on power of attorney forms, see Bradford Guide, Using Powers of Attorney in Colorado, by Karen Brady