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What is a general power of attorney?
A general power of attorney is a legal document gives temporary authority to someone else to make decisions and act on your behalf as if he or she were you.
It is intended to be used while you could carry out the action yourself, except that location or time may prevent you from acting.
As the giver you are the 'donor' of the power and the receiver becomes your 'attorney'.
The actions that your attorney may take for you can be as general or specific as you like and may relate to one part or all of your affairs.
A power of attorney is often abbreviated to PoA. A general one is sometimes called an ordinary power of attorney.
What powers can an attorney be given?
Within the power of attorney form you specify the powers that your attorney will have. You can also state those which they shouldn't have.
You might be travelling abroad for an extended period of time and need a trusted family member to manage your legal and financial affairs at home (such as buying, selling or renting property).
You might want to allow someone to perform a specific task on a regular basis (such paying your bills in your name from your bank account each month or collecting a pension).
You might want someone with greater knowledge of a subject to act for you (e.g. an real estate agent to negotiate buying a house).
You can only grant power to do things that you already have the right and capacity to do yourself.
You can’t use it to allow the attorney to make decisions about your welfare.
Who can be an attorney?
An attorney is anyone who has legal authority to act or make decisions on your behalf.
You might appoint a friend, a member of your family, a co-director of your company or a professional advisor such as your accountant.
The only qualifications for an attorney is that they are over 18 years old and are not an undischarged or interim bankrupt.
It is a common misconception that an attorney must be a lawyer because we hear the word most often in a legal context. However, here 'attorney' is a contraction of the phrase 'attorney at law'. In other words, someone who represents you in legal matters.
An attorney who represents you in other non-legal matters could have any other qualification, experience or background.
It is likely that you would choose someone with some expertise or knowledge in the subject matter of what you are asking them to do, but it is not a requirement.
You can appoint more than one attorney. They might act 'jointly', which means independently of each other, or 'jointly and severally', which means they must act together at all times.
How long is the attorney appointed?
The power of attorney document should specify the time period during which the attorney has powers.
After the time has elapsed, the attorney's powers end.
The donor can always cancel the power (called revoking in legal jargon) before the expiry date in the document in order to take away the attorney's right to act. This is done using another document called a revocation of power of attorney. The attorney must be notified to make a revocation effective.
A PoA will automatically be revoked if the donor or the attorney loses mental capacity or dies.
When can you use a power of attorney?
A PoA can be made by anyone who is over the age of 18 and who is mentally capable of understanding what they are doing.
It becomes effective as soon as it is signed (or otherwise if you specify in the document).
You can also specify a date from which it becomes effective, allowing you to make it now for use in the future.
You do not have to register this document with anyone or any organisation.
When to use this general power of attorney
You can only grant the power of attorney to do things that you already have the right and capacity to do yourself. You can’t use it to allow the attorney to make decisions about your welfare.
It is useful because it provides flexibility – you choose the what, how, where, when and who.
You do not have to register this power of attorney with anyone or any organisation. The attorney must be notified to make a revocation effective.
Enduring Power of Attorney
A General PoA should not be confused with an Enduring PoA, which is a document that specifically appoints someone to make health care, welfare and medical decisions for you.
An Enduring Power of Attorney is not revoked if the principal dies (the donor for this type of document).
We have an article about making an enduring power of attorney.
We have different versions of this general power of attorney template for different states in Australia. Please select your state so that you have a version of the form that complies with the law there.
You can use this document for personal or business purposes.
- Names and details of the donor and the attorney
- Reference to the relevant prescribed state legislation
- Examples of what the attorney might be given the power to do
- Signatures of donor, attorney and witness
- Explanatory notes to guide you
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