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Power of Attorney Basics

A power of attorney is a written document that gives one person the authority to act on another’s behalf for any legal or economic issues for a specified time. You can tailor your powers of attorney for any situation, choosing between a general power of attorney or a special power of attorney, and whether the power of attorney is durable or not. If you’re married, both you and your spouse should designate a power of attorney prior to your deployment; assistance is available at most installation legal assistance offices.

  • General power of attorney — A general power of attorney gives the person you designate the power to perform almost any legal act on your behalf for a specified time. This can include managing bank accounts; selling, exchanging, buying or investing any assets or property; purchasing and maintaining insurance; and entering into any binding contracts. Because the authority granted is broad, give this type of power of attorney only if a special power of attorney won’t suffice and if the person you choose is trustworthy and financially responsible.
  • Special or limited power of attorney — A special or limited power of attorney gives specific powers to the designated person for a specified time. When drafting a special power of attorney, you’re required to list the particular decisions over which the designee has power.
  • Durable power of attorney — A durable power of attorney remains valid even if you become incapacitated or unable to handle your own affairs. If you don’t specify a durable power of attorney, it’ll automatically end if you’re incapacitated in the future. A general or special power of attorney can be durable with appropriate language. This eliminates the need for a court to choose a guardian and conservator to make decisions on your behalf during your incapacity.

Benefits of a power of attorney for your spouse

Providing a power of attorney to your spouse, parent or trusted friend can help ensure he or she can address whatever needs to be done on your behalf while you’re away:

  • Access family finances — By providing your spouse a power of attorney, you can ensure access to your bank accounts and financial information.
  • Pay taxes and receive tax refunds — Even if you deploy, you have to file a federal and state income tax return, unless you get an extension. The Internal Revenue Service generally requires your and your spouse’s signatures to file income tax returns and to access refunds. For your spouse to be able to file a joint income tax return during your deployment without a power of attorney, you will need to complete IRS Form 2848, “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representation.”
  • Receive emergency financial assistance — Each of the service branches offers emergency financial assistance through their respective relief organizations.
  • Receive government housing — If your family is on the waiting list for government housing when you deploy, you should notify the installation housing office before your deployment. If you give your spouse power of attorney — and give a copy to the installation housing office — before your deployment, your spouse and children may be able to accept and move into government housing.
  • Enroll newborn children in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS — TRICARE Prime automatically covers your newborn baby for 120 days. To continue coverage after 120 days, enroll him or her through the installation ID card center. Your spouse must have either a general or a special power of attorney.

Terminating powers of attorney

You can revoke a power of attorney at any time as long as you’re mentally competent. When drafting the original document, you may consider limiting its length, so it automatically revokes upon your return from deployment. To revoke a power of attorney before its expiration, you can consult a legal assistance attorney to execute a revocation.

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