Legal Assistance Office
Most people involved with the military have created or heard of a Power of Attorney. Such documents are frequently executed by individuals in the military in anticipation of deployment or temporary duty assignments. In this article we will discuss the purpose, requirements, and limitations of these documents as well as how to obtain one.
A POA allows you to appoint a trusted person to handle your affairs while you are unavailable or unable to do so. The document must be signed by the person granting the authority (the “principal”), specify the appointed person (known as an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”), what authorities the agent has, and for how long they have those authorities.
The principal must be mentally competent at the time of signing to make the document legally binding. If there is a question about mental competence, a physician may be asked to certify in writing that the person understands the document and the consequences of signing it. A POA should be signed in front of a notary. Notarization makes it more difficult to challenge the validity of the POA.
There are essentially two types of POA: General and Special. A General Power of Attorney gives broad power to your agent. The agent can take almost any action on your behalf under a GPOA. Due to the broad authority granted by these documents, there are risks and potential problems with a GPOA. If you have chosen an irresponsible or unethical agent, the GPOA can be abused, causing you substantial financial harm. Further, GPOAs can be difficult to effectively revoke. Finally, due to the risks of the document and in an effort to protect their clients, some organizations (typically banks or the Internal Revenue Service) are skeptical about accepting a GPOA.
An alternative to the GPOA, the Special Power of Attorney allows the principal to identify specific actions that the agent can take. For example, you could authorize your agent to sell a car for you, file income taxes, clear government quarters, arrange for shipment of household goods, or secure medical care for your children.
Under the law any POA becomes ineffective if the principal dies or becomes mentally incapacitated. The principal can specify that the POA will continue to be effective even if he or she becomes incapacitated. It is then called a Durable Power of Attorney. Any POA will always expire when the principal dies.
You can revoke a POA at any time, even if the document has a specific termination date. You should advise your agent, and anyone who may have dealings with your agent, that the POA is revoked.
Persons authorized legal assistance from the military (Servicemembers, Retirees, and their dependents) can have POAs prepared on a walk-in basis at the White Sands Missile Range Staff Judge Advocate Office.
As you consider which POA you want, remember that you must only grant authority using a GPOA when the agent is completely trustworthy. POAs are dangerous for the same reason that they are useful.
The number at the Legal Assistance Office on White Sands is (575) 678-1263. It is located in Building 124 on Crozier Street. No appointment needed for POA.