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What is a Pennsylvania Power of Attorney?

A Pennsylvania power of attorney is a legal document that provides the authorization for a person, referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to make financial decisions, healthcare decisions, real estate decisions, or estate decisions on behalf of the person granting this authority. A Pennsylvania POA is often used for estate planning, but there are other instances where a POA is a useful tool.

Quick Reference:

The person granting permission is referred to as the principal, donor, or grantor.

The person receiving authorization is known as the agent or the attorney-in-fact.

PA POA Laws:

A Pennsylvania power of attorney form must comply with Chapter 56 of Pennsylvania’s power of attorney statutes. These laws specifically outline the parameters of a legally enforceable power of attorney and ensures that the form, as well as its duties, are protected under the law. Here are some of Pennsylvania’s power of attorney requirements:

  • The document must be in writing; it cannot simply be a verbal agreement.
  • The principal must be at least 18 years old.
  • The principal must be of sound mind and understand what they are signing.
  • The document must be signed by the principal.
  • The document must be executed in the presence of two witnesses.
  • The power of attorney is presumed durable (see definition below) unless specific language is used within the document stating otherwise.

The principal does have the right to specifically state within the POA which powers the agent can and cannot use on their behalf. The principal also has the legal right to revoke (terminate) the power of attorney, even when it is durable, as long as they are competent. Additionally, the POA terminates when:

  • The principal dies.
  • The principal is incapacitated and the POA is not durable.
  • The POA specifically states that it terminates.
  • The principal and agent are married and file for divorce and the POA does not specifically state that the fiduciary relationship between the parties will remain in effect.

Why Would You Use a Pennsylvania Power of Attorney?

There are many reasons why someone would use a Pennsylvania power of attorney form to give another person the ability to make decisions related to their tangible personal property, financial institution transactions, tax matters, or their well-being. Some of those reasons include:

  • Their age, mental health concerns, or the diagnosis of an illness. They may want to have their affairs handled in certain ways. It is generally advised that everyone, including those who are diagnosed with a terminal illness and those who are in perfect health, establish the right powers of attorney to make sure that their matters are handled and that their wishes are fulfilled.
  • A person diagnosed with a mental illness may need a different power of attorney than a person diagnosed with a terminal illness.
  • A person caring for their dependent children may need a different power of attorney than a person who does not have dependent children.

Everyone’s need for a power of attorney is different. Because there are many different types available, you should seek legal advice so that you choose the one that will best meet your needs. This will also give you the opportunity to ask about how to properly revoke the POA should it become necessary for you to do so. Here are the most commonly used powers of attorney in Pennsylvania.

General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney grants a single individual to handle matters on behalf of the principal.

  • However, this authorization is terminated if the principal becomes incapacitated or if they die. The principal also has the right to revoke it as long as they are competent. Keep in mind that Pennsylvania law states that all powers of attorney are durable unless they specifically state otherwise.

Durable Power of Attorney

A Pennsylvania durable power of attorney, also known as a statutory power of attorney, is an "extended version" of a general power of attorney because it goes beyond the parameters of a general power of attorney.

  • The term "durable" comes from the fact that the agent’s authority continues over the principal if the principal were to become disabled or incapacitated. The principal can revoke a durable POA as long as they are competent. All Pennsylvania powers of attorney are considered durable unless they specifically state otherwise.

Limited Power of Attorney

A limited power of attorney, also known as a special power of attorney, grants limited power to whatever the principal specifies.

  • In many cases, an agent will only have the power to handle finances or only the ability to make medical decisions, but will not have authority to do other things such as sell real estate (depending on what the principal decides). Just like a general power of attorney, the authority diminishes if the principal dies. A limited power of attorney also terminates once its purpose is fulfilled.

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney grants power to the agent to make important healthcare decisions on the principal’s behalf.

  • A medical power of attorney can be durable or nondurable. Keep in mind that in Pennsylvania all powers of attorney are durable unless they specifically state otherwise. For medical powers of attorney, this is an important concept. When a medical power of attorney is not durable, it loses its power if the principal is declared incapacitated. If it is durable and the principal is declared incapacitated, the POA remains in effect, but it still has its limitations. The agent may not use a durable medical power of attorney to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of the principal.

Minor Child Power of Attorney

A minor child power of attorney allows a parent or guardian to grant decision-making rights over their child to a temporary guardian in the case that the parent or guardian may not be present during a medical emergency.

  • This form is generally used if the parent or guardian must leave the country for a period of time. It is also used if the minor child will temporarily travel or live with an adult who is not their parent or guardian.

Tax Power of Attorney

A tax power of attorney allows the agent who is usually a qualified individual such as an accountant, to prepare and submit tax information to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue on behalf of the principal.

Vehicle Power of Attorney

A vehicle power of attorney allows the agent to buy, sell, and handle the necessary paperwork with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on the principal’s behalf.

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