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A general durable power of attorney is arguably the most powerful legal document you can sign. It can allow someone to sell your house or to buy one in your name. The same is true with vehicles. If someone appoints you as their agent through a power of attorney, you can open credit cards and loans in their name.

A power of attorney can be a great tool as long as you trust the person you are giving it to. If not, it can trigger a disaster.

When I was an Air Force judge advocate, or “JAG,” we would offer powers of attorney for military members who were deploying overseas. It was frequently a checklist item for our soldiers, sailors and airmen. Military power of attorneys had some unique wording, such as automatically renewing if you were taken as a prisoner of war; but all of the other concepts were similar.

If you have family members who are elderly, a power of attorney can be a valuable tool. It can potentially be used to avoid the need to seek the appointment of a fiduciary. So, what is a power of attorney?

If you sign a power of attorney, you are stating that you want another person to have the ability to sign legal documents on your behalf. A general power of attorney is designed to cover every type of legal document (e.g., real estate transactions, investments, banking transactions, insurance or legal claims, government benefits, etc.). A durable power of attorney remains effective even if the person who signed it becomes incapacitated. A.R.S. § 14-5501. 

So, what do you do if your grandfather wants to give you a power of attorney but only wants it to be effective in the event he develops mental problems? In such a situation, a springing general durable power of attorney that becomes effective only upon the disability of the principal could work. 

One place where a general power of attorney probably will not work is with the IRS. They will likely want you to use their own special power of attorney form, called an IRS Form 2848. 

Arizona, like every state, also allows someone to designate someone to make health care decisions on their behalf. Health care powers of attorney allow someone other than the patient to consent to medical and to surgical care, as well as a make a decision to withhold care. A.R.S. § 36-3224. 

In spite of all of this potentially delegated authority, a power of attorney cannot actually make someone an attorney. If someone gives you a power of attorney, you most likely will not be able to speak in a courtroom on their behalf.