Under a power of attorney, a person, referred to as the principal, signs a document that gives power to someone else, called an agent, to do things for the Principal.  When acting under a power of attorney, an agent is a fiduciary, which means he or she must act in the best interest of the Principal.  A power of attorney can be an immediate, meaning the power of attorney becomes effective upon its being signed by the Principal, or springing.  A springing power of attorney becomes effective when an event specified in the power of attorney occurs, such as the principal being declared incapacitated by a doctor.  By law, nearly all powers of attorney terminate at the death of the principal or upon his or her becoming incapacitated, unless the power of attorney is a “durable power of attorney,” in which case the agent’s power will remain in force even if the principal becomes incapacitated.  A springing power of attorney that becomes effective upon the principal becoming incapacitated is a type of durable power of attorney.

Under a Financial Powers of Attorney, you give your Agent power over your finances.  A general financial power of attorney generally gives the agent power over all aspect of your finances.  A specific power of attorney gives power to the agent to handle a specific transaction or account for you.  An agent under a financial power of attorney is sometimes referred to as your “attorney-in fact.” One need not be a licensed attorney to serve as your Agent under a financial power of attorney.

Under a Health Power of Attorney, you give power to your agent to make health care decisions for you.  By statute, Health Powers of Attorney are springing, which means the Agent may only act for you if your medical providers determine that you are incapacitated.  Your agent can be given the power to consent to medical procedures for you such a surgery, check you into a nursing home, or implement end of life decisions such as withholding or withdrawing a feeding tube.

A living will (also known as an "end of life directive"), is often used in conjunction with a health powers of attorney.  A living will gives you the opportunity to express your specific wishes regarding end-of-life decisions.  For example, you can direct that no life sustaining measures, such as feeding tubes, be used for you if you are in a persistent vegetative state.