Ask the County Law Librarian – Power of Attorney
Q: My wife and I are temporarily moving to southern California to care for her ailing mother. My brother has agreed to take care of things for me while I’m away. I can handle a lot myself online, but just in case, I want him to be able to access my bank accounts, sign documents for me, and handle my personal business while I’m down south. Will a power of attorney do that?
A: A power of attorney may work for your situation. By signing a power of attorney, you (the “principal”) are giving another person (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) the legal authority to act on your behalf. California law prohibits your agent from writing, changing, or revoking your will (Probate Code 4265). Other than that, you can grant your agent whatever powers you wish.
There are many types of powers of attorney available, depending on your needs. Limited or special powers of attorney restrict the agent’s power to a specific transaction or type of transaction, such as selling your car or caring for your child. Powers of attorney for health care grant your agent authority to make medical decisions for you. Financial powers of attorney can grant your agent broad authority to conduct most types of business and personal transactions. The laws related to powers of attorney are found in the California Probate Code starting at section 4000. The type of power of attorney you use will depend on what your agent will be doing for you.
Powers of attorney may be durable or non-durable, depending on whether you want your agent to retain authority to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. The California Probate Code section §4401 creates a “Uniform Statutory Form Power of Attorney,” which can be used for durable or non-durable financial powers of attorney. This form allows you to grant your agent powers to perform a variety of common transactions, such as buying and selling real estate; managing your stocks and bonds; handling your banking transactions; running your small business; and collecting your public benefits. Using this form, you select which powers you wish to grant, and can provide special instructions limiting or extending these powers. If this form is sufficient for your needs, you can use the downloadable version on the Law Library’s website. If this form doesn’t fit your needs, the Law Library has resources with many other sample powers of attorney that you can use to draft your own. Keep in mind, some banks and other financial institutions require that you use their power of attorney form, so check with them to see if a special form is needed. More information about powers of attorney is available from the Law Library’s website.
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