Understanding a Military Power of Attorney: A Primer for Families

At some point in their military career, your service member may ask if you can help them with certain personal business that can be hard to handle if they have limited communications or access to technology. This may include a wide variety of transactions including paying bills, handling banking or insurance, or selling property.

To hand off these responsibilities they need to create and sign a power of attorney that designates you or someone they trust as their representative. A POA is a legally binding planning tool that gives one person the authority to act on another's behalf for legal or financial issues for a specified time. Conversations with your service member can help you better meet his or her needs.

The military maintains legal services offices to prepare powers of attorney for service members, and may bring the legal services to the individual units before deployments or other operations. Even better: These services are free to your service member.

General, limited and specific powers of attorney

Powers of attorney may be general or written to address a specific transaction(s). Your service member will have to think through and determine the types of transactions they may need you, other family members or trusted people to complete. If they are unsure about their needs, an appointment with the legal services office can help them determine the right POA for their situation. This conversation or prompt can determine which types of powers of attorney are needed.

If you are someone’s POA, here’s what to know:

  • A general power of attorney gives the you the legal right to take any action on behalf of your service member, or grantor. While this can be easier, it also has drawbacks as some institutions may not accept a general POA, or at least beyond the most basic kinds of transactions.
  • A special power of attorney, or limited power of attorney, is specific to a certain transaction or business relationship. This may include powers of attorney for specific bank accounts, vehicles or actions such as the sale of a particular property. A special power of attorney should include detailed information. The downside to using special powers of attorney is that you need to have one for every business relationship being covered.

If you are being asked to be a POA then you will need to know detailed information such as the bank account name and number, Vehicle Identification Numbers, or insurance policy companies and numbers, whether or not they are added to a POA.

Regular, durable and springing powers of attorney

Another important aspect of a power of attorney is when they take effect and when they terminate. Here are common terms to know about POAs:

  • Regular: Most regular powers of attorney take effect when they are signed. A regular power of attorney lasts until it expires, until it is revoked, until the grantor becomes incapacitated or until either party dies.
  • Durable: A durable power of attorney also usually takes effect when signed and lasts until it expires, until it is revoked or until either party dies. However, a durable power of attorney contains special language that continues the representative’s powers even if the grantor is incapacitated.
  • Springing: A springing power of attorney does not become valid until a certain event occurs – a common use is for the power of attorney to become valid if the grantor is incapacitated and unable to make their own decisions. They may or may not have an expiration date.
  • Termination: A power of attorney is limited to a specific period of time or around a certain event, such as during the length of a deployment. The POA automatically expires when that time period or event has concluded.

Using the right POA forms

In many cases, the company or organization may require that you use their specific form, that you pre-file the power of attorney with them, or they may have other requirements. Your service member should check with their bank, insurance company or other institutions with whom they expect that you will be able to do business to find out their preferred format and policy for submitting the documents.

Being asked to serve as someone’s POA is an important responsibility. Make sure that you understand what you are being asked to do.

Your military member can contact a Military OneSource consultant or access the military’s free legal locator if they have other questions about when and how they can use powers of attorney to take care of their personal business when they are unavailable.