Limited vs. General Powers of Attorney
Powers of attorney are legal documents you can use for any number of purposes. Powers of
attorney transfer to someone else, called an attorney-in-fact or an agent, your ability to make decisions
or enter into agreements. When you appoint a power of attorney, you give your agent the right to act on
your behalf as a stand-in, and the decisions your agent makes are just as legally binding and
enforceable as if you had made them yourself.
However, powers of attorney are not simply a blanket declaration or decision making right. The
power for your attorney-in-fact to act for you is typically divided into two basic categories: limited and
general powers, each of which conveys different rights.
Limited Power of Attorney: As the name implies, limited powers of attorney place specific
limits on the attorney-in-fact. These limits can be whatever the principal desires. A principal can, for
example, grant the attorney-in-fact the right to manage her finances while she is on vacation or grant a
broader, though still limited, ability to manage her finances at all times.
General Power of Attorney: A general power of attorney, sometimes known as a universal
power of attorney, is a broad grant of powers by the principal, allowing the attorney-in-fact to do
almost anything the principal can do. General powers of attorney take effect immediately, unless
otherwise stated, and are very powerful documents.
Even though a general power of attorney conveys broad authority to your agent, there are still
decisions or actions the agent is always prevented from taking. Your agent, for example, cannot create
your last will and testament or make any changes to the document unless you direct the agent to do so.
Also, your agent cannot vote for you for in an election or perform specific tasks that require legal
approval, such as practicing medicine for you if you are a physician. State laws on power of attorney
are different and specific, so always talk to a lawyer before granting power of attorney.
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