Why having a power of attorney is important

Raise your hand if you like paperwork—or thinking about what might happen to you if you ever get injured. When you’re in the military, planning ahead is part of doing whatever you can to keep yourself safe. That includes having documents such as power of attorney in place. Take a few minutes to learn more about the different types of POA. It’ll give you peace of mind that your family can act on your behalf if you’re injured or on deployment –and that your wishes will be known if tragedy strikes.   

What is power of attorney?

Power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives someone—such as a partner, parent, friend, or lawyer—the legal authority to act on your behalf when you’re away from home or unable to speak for yourself. For example, providing POA to your partner allows him or her to access your bank accounts and pay bills when you’re in a combat zone. You can grant more than one person POA, but you’ll have to decide if they can act individually or if they must work together to take action on your behalf.

There are four different types of POA: general, special, durable, and healthcare.

  • General POA gives a designated person or organization (“appointee”) broad powers to act on your behalf. For example, a POA lets the appointee make financial decisions, handle a car registration, or sign an apartment lease in your name. You might want to have a general POA if you need someone to manage your personal matters while you’re overseas, or if you’re physically or mentally incapable of making decisions.
  • Special POA specifically states which powers you want your designated person to have (or not). You might want to set up this document if you’re overseas or have health limitations. For a special POA, you’ll need to think carefully about which decisions you want someone else to make on your behalf, especially if you don’t want to grant broad powers to make decisions in your name.
  • Durable POA keeps your general or special POA valid if you become mentally incompetent due to illness or injury. Without this provision, a POA would automatically end if you became unable to make your own health or financial decisions. A durable POA must include specific language to make it lasting. You can revoke your POA at any time as long as you’re mentally competent.
  • Healthcare POA (sometimes called a medical advanced directive) authorizes your designated person or organization to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unconscious, mentally incompetent, or unable to make decisions due to health reasons.

There are several ways to set up a POA. You can execute the documents yourself (if you meet all criteria to create a valid document in your state), or you can schedule an appointment with your nearest legal assistance office to talk about your needs. Either way, you’ll feel more ready for deployment if you set up your POA and other legal documents before you leave.