What is a Durable Power of Attorney?
A durable power of attorney (DPOA) is a very powerful document.  It gives another person the authority to figuratively step into your shoes and act in your behalf.  When you give someone this kind of authority, he/she becomes known as your “agent” or your “attorney in fact.”   

A DPOA is a very important part of a comprehensive estate plan.  If you ever become incapacitated (cannot make decisions on your own) because of an injury or health crisis, it is critical for someone else to be able to do what you would normally do—like pay bills, or make important decisions regarding your health care.  

There are different types of powers of attorney.  A general durable power of attorney, for example, usually becomes effective the moment you sign it.  A “springing” power of attorney does not become effective until the occurrence of a certain event—like your incapacity.  DPOAs can also give agents authority to do different things.  For example, a health care DPOA gives an agent authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.  A financial DPOA gives an agent authority to do things like access your bank accounts, pay your bills, and make investment decisions.   Washington also allows parents to execute DPOAs for minor children.  These documents enable parents to appoint an attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions for their minor children if there is no parent readily available to give such consent.

Because DPOAs do, in fact, give your personal authority to another person, it is essential that you choose someone whom you trust implicitly.  It is also important that the person have the skills necessary to carry out the instructions in your DPOA.   You may adore your niece, but if she has a habit of paying bills a little late, she is not a good choice to serve as your financial attorney in fact.  Your spouse may be a logical choice to serve as your health care agent, but if you know that he/she will be nearly paralyzed by having to make a critical health care decision for you, you should consider appointing someone else.