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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

What Can and Can’t a Power of Attorney Do?

POSTED ON: March 2, 2020

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that designates an agent (attorney-in-fact), most often a loved one, to act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or legal matters. The person authorizing the other to act is the principal. Powers of attorney expire at death, or sooner in some cases, and can always be revoked upon the request of the principal.

In Massachusetts, a medical POA is known as a health care proxy. It gives another person the legal authority to make medical decisions on the patient’s behalf should the patient be unable to do so. A financial power of attorney lets the agent make financial decisions on behalf of the principal.

A power of attorney document can be written in different ways and can give the agent either broad or narrow powers, but here are some of the types of decisions an agent can make:

Health Care Proxy
The agent can decide:

  • The type of medical care the principal receives, including surgery, hospital care, home health care, etc. Of course, these choices are also based on the finances of the principal and the approval of the financial agent.
  • The doctors and care providers giving care to the principle.
  • Where the principal lives. This could include assisted living, nursing homes, etc. The financial POA must approve of the costs.

Financial Agent
The agent can do the following on behalf of the principal:

  • Make investments
  • File taxes
  • Collect debts
  • Access the principal’s financial account to pay for living expenses like housing, health care, food, etc.
  • Manage properties owned by the principal
  • Apply for public benefits for the principal

What a POA Can’t Do
The power of attorney can’t make a decision:

  • That goes against the principal’s best interest.
  • For the principal after the principal has died. That becomes the responsibility of the executor.
  • To transfer the power of attorney to a different person. Only the principal or the court can appoint a power of attorney