A power of attorney document gives someone, whom you will appoint, the right to make decisions for you. Powers of attorney may expire when someone becomes ill, or they may be durable, and stay in effect until your death. There are two basic types of powers of attorney—one for ** health care, and one for ** finances. Be sure to carefully choose the person you appoint for this role. You should be able to draw up a power of attorney form on your own.

When you need a power of attorney

Anyone can benefit from planning ahead and having a power of attorney in place. But if you are ill, aging, have plans to travel extensively, or have substantial assets (money, property, etc.), you may want to draw up powers of attorney for health care or financial decisions, or both. Married couples may want to have powers of attorney for each other.

What a power of attorney can include

A typical power of attorney document is not very long or complicated. You should be able to create and file a power of attorney document without a lawyer. Forms are available online. If you have trouble understanding the form, seek an lawyer's advice.

The most important part of the power of attorney is selecting the person whom you are appointing to make decisions for you. Be sure to pick someone you trust and someone who would carry out your wishes.

In your power of attorney form, you will spell out exactly what you want your appointee-also called a proxy-to do on your behalf. It may describe medical procedures you want done or not done in a health care power of attorney. For a financial power of attorney, you should specify exactly what your proxy may do for you. You may want them to pay your household bills or your income taxes, for instance, but may not want to grant them the power to liquidate your retirement accounts.

If you don't have a power of attorney

Without a power of attorney document in place, if you become ill and unable to communicate your wishes, your medical and financial decisions will be made by someone else not of your choosing. It could be a relative you aren't close to, a health care provider, or even a judge if there's a legal battle over who will make decisions on your behalf. These people will likely not be familiar with what medical treatments you would like to have or refuse, and may not have instructions on how to manage your money.

Additional resources:

US Legal: Power of attorney forms by state

Citizens Information: Types of Power of Attorney

Related Legal Guides:

Durable Power of Attorney

Financial Power of Attorney

Medical Power of Attorney

Health Care Proxy