A power of attorney (POA) is a document by which one person authorizes another to take actions on his/her behalf.
There are two types of Power of Attorney (POA):
Either a general POA or a special POA can be limited in other ways than defining the activities to which it applies. For example, it might be valid only until a certain date, valid only during assignment to a particular country, or valid only in the event of evacuation, physical disability, or hostage-taking.
Planning for "what do I do now" situations includes discussing possibilities within the family and recognizing that many Foreign Service families have faced emergencies -- in some cases with unfortunate or even tragic results. Although it is obviously impossible to prepare for every conceivable emergency or contingency, families should reflect on the following checklist of situations in which an employee and/or spouse/partner may be unavailable:
The advantages of having a POA are obvious: a trusted agent, family member, or attorney at law can take care of your affairs, even if you are unavailable to make the decisions or sign the documents. Your POA designate does not need to be an attorney.
However, every family should consider the disadvantages as well. The agent whom you trust today may not seem so trustworthy tomorrow; the only certain way to cancel or revoke a POA, unless it has an expiration date, is to tear it up.
Please note that persons and institutions are under no obligation to accept a Power of Attorney. Banks and investment firms often prefer the use of their own in-house forms with a signature by the principal and the agent. To cope with some of these situations, joint accounts or joint ownership of investments may serve better than a POA, if the intention is to permit either spouse to have ready access to the funds (even if the account is small).
The ideal is for families to plan ahead, to anticipate the situations that may occur, and to consult attorneys, realtors, banks, or other institutions on the acceptability of POAs for the appropriate uses. Obtain advice and have contingency plans in place.
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