By Daniel A. Lauretano, Sr.
Chief, Client Services and Policy Division
Pfc. Owen N. Green
Legal Assistant, Client Services & Policy Division
WIESBADEN, Germany – Life is great. You have been saving up for your dream car and have begun planning your marriage with your high school sweetheart. Suddenly, you receive deployment orders. You panic, “Am I ready to deploy? Who will handle my affairs while I am away? What legal documents should I prepare before I deploy?”
In this panic, you come up with a solution, a solution to all foreseeable issues, one both easy and blindly simple. You’re ignited with an ingenious solution and pat yourself on the back with two large thuds. “I will get a General Power of Attorney!” You leave a GPOA with your boyfriend and he agrees to pay your bills and manage your bank account.
Flash forward six months and you are arriving home from your deployment when you notice a new car in your driveway. You hoped all would be as you left it, yet there’s one slight difference, your boyfriend has a new car. With the GPOA you gave him, he was able to write a check from your checking account to put towards a down payment for the purchase of a new car. You don’t like this and now you are in debt. You think quickly and decide to visit the Legal Assistance Office for help.
A Power of Attorney is a written instrument that allows you to authorize your agent to conduct certain business on your behalf. It is one of the strongest legal documents that you can give to another person. There are two types of POAs; "general" and "special,” also referred to as “limited.”
A General Power of Attorney gives your agent very broad powers to act on your behalf. A Special Power of Attorney limits your agent's authority to act only on certain matters. Every act performed by your agent within the authority of the POA is legally binding upon you. Since a POA is such a powerful document, give it only to a trustworthy person, and only when absolutely necessary.
A GPOA gives your agent the authority to do most things you could do yourself, such as write checks and pay bills, borrow money and sign contracts in your name. Your agent cannot perform certain actions which require your personal attention, such as taking an oath. General POAs may not be accepted for the performance of certain acts, such as opening and closing accounts, or conducting real estate transactions. The dangers of a GPOA might not be apparent at first glance, but are real.
The SPOA limits the authority and transfers a specific right or authority to an individual to solely act on your behalf for that limited purpose.
Keep in mind a few things as you decide which POA to use. First, the decision to grant an individual a POA is solely yours. Second, determine why you really need one and choose a SPOA that lays out those specific authorities. Third, when possible, always avoid a GPOA.
Finally, keep in mind that certain businesses (banks and other financial institutions) will only accept a special power of attorney with specific instructions and requirements, and some businesses will have their own POAs for you to use.