The Four Types of Power of Attorney in California

The Four Types of Power of Attorney in California

Table of Contents

In California, the four primary powers of attorney include General, Durable, Limited, and Medical.

Whether you’re looking into estate planning, seeking to safeguard your family member’s living trusts, or ensuring a loved one’s wishes are respected, knowing the differences is essential.

Let’s dive into the specifics of each power of attorney type and how to choose and implement the right one effectively, ensuring your peace of mind and security.

Key Takeaways

  • A Power of Attorney (POA) legally authorizes someone to make decisions on your behalf, with types varying by scope and purpose, including general, durable, medical, and limited POAs.
  • General POAs offer broad authority over personal affairs, while Durable POAs remain effective if the principal becomes incapacitated.
  • Medical POAs allow designated agents to make healthcare decisions according to the principal’s wishes, emphasizing the need for clear directives.
  • Limited POAs are tailored for specific transactions, offering a focused approach to managing particular tasks or decisions in the principal’s absence.
  • Creating a valid POA in California requires meeting legal criteria such as age, competency, specifying powers, and proper execution.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows an individual, known as the principal, to appoint an agent or attorney-in-fact to make decisions on their behalf.

This legal relationship grants the agent the legal authority to handle affairs if the principal cannot do so themselves due to various reasons, such as illness, absence, incapacity, or disability.

The agent has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the principal.

There are different types of powers of attorney you should know, each catering to different purposes and giving distinct levels of control.

Type of POAPurposeKey RoleParty Involved
GeneralHandles broad legal and financial decisionsAgentPrincipal
DurableRemains in effect if the principal becomes incapacitatedFiduciaryAttorney-in-fact
MedicalMakes healthcare decisions when the principal is unable toHealthcare AgentPrincipal
LimitedOperates within a limited scope or for a one-time transactionAgentPrincipal

Deciding which type of POA fits your or your loved one’s needs depends on the level of decisions you wish to delegate and what you foresee requiring assistance with in the future.

1. General Power of Attorney

A General Power of Attorney grants broad powers to an agent to conduct a variety of transactions.

This capability becomes a critical tool in executing an estate plan or managing legal business and financial affairs.

Scope of Authority

With a General POA, you, as the principal, authorize your agent to handle almost all aspects of your personal affairs.

These powers can include selling property, managing real estate, entering contracts,  dealing with probate matters, and ensuring your living will and estate plans are executed as intended.

Typically, these powers remain in effect unless you become incapacitated, at which point a Durable POA would be required.

Specific Transactions

The agent, under a General Power of Attorney, might be involved in:

  • Real Estate: Buying, selling, or managing real estate assets through an estate planning attorney.
  • Contracts and Legal Matters: Entering or terminating contractual agreements.
  • Business Matters: Managing your business interests, operations, and other transactions.

These powers grant the agent authority to act in your stead in various transactions aligned with your estate plan and business affairs.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney remains in effect even when you become incapacitated, covering critical financial decisions and safeguarding your assets within the California probate code.

It’s a preventive measure, acting as a springing power of attorney that activates under specified conditions.

It’s a crucial document in estate planning, allowing an appointed agent to manage financial matters and make financial decisions on behalf of you as the principal.

Scope of Authority

When setting up a Durable POA in California, you determine the scope of the agent’s authority. This scope can range from broad to very specific.

For example, the agent might have the power to handle all of your assets or be limited to specific financial transactions. They maintain this authority even if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions themselves.

Specific Transactions

In terms of Specific Transactions, the overall goal of the agent under a Durable Power of Attorney is to manage the principal’s financial and estate planning efficiently, prioritizing your best interests, particularly during medical incapacitation.

It could include:

  • Financial Decision-Making: Involves real estate planning, stocks, and other assets.
  • Daily Financial Management: Involves bank account oversight, bill payments, and investment strategy formulation.

3. Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney empowers a healthcare agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

As part of the advance health care directive in California, this legal document is essential for ensuring your medical preferences are honored if you’re unable to communicate.

Scope of Authority

The scope of authority for a medical power of attorney is tailored to your wishes.

It specifies what medical decisions the appointed healthcare agent can make—these range from general medical care to end-of-life treatments.

The agent’s powers can be as broad or as limited as you desire. The document must detail the extent of the agent’s decision-making powers to avoid any ambiguity during critical moments.

Specific Transactions

Within a healthcare power of attorney, specific transactions might be outlined to address scenarios, such as:

  • Consenting to Surgical Procedures: The agent may be authorized to consent to surgeries that are necessary for your health.
  • Choosing Medical Facilities: It involves selecting the medical facilities best suited for your medical treatment and care.
  • Refusing Life-Sustaining Treatment: The POA might grant the agent the authority to refuse or discontinue treatments that prolong life artificially, in alignment with your wishes.
  • Pain Management and Diagnostic Tests: The agent can make decisions regarding your pain management strategies and approve or decline specific diagnostic tests.

4. Limited Power of Attorney

A Limited Power of Attorney grants the agent authority to conduct specific tasks on your behalf, ideal for situations where a non-durable power of attorney is necessary for a one-time transaction or event.

Scope of Authority

The scope of a Limited Power of Attorney is narrowly defined and typically revolves around a particular activity, scenario, or special power of attorney.

Unlike a General Power of Attorney, it restricts the agent’s power to certain actions or within a set timeframe.

This focused nature of authority is particularly useful in scenarios where you can’t be present to handle affairs yet require them to be dealt with legally and correctly.

Specific Transactions

In the context of real estate transactions, a Limited Power of Attorney plays a pivotal role by empowering an agent to undertake significant actions on your behalf.

These actions can range from purchasing and selling properties to managing them efficiently.

Specifically, you could authorize the agent to:

  • Sign deeds or other legal documents related to real estate.
  • Handle particular financial scenarios in your absence.

As the principal, you must meticulously craft the document detailing these powers. It should precisely enumerate each permitted action, thereby eliminating any potential for misunderstandings or unauthorized overreach.

How to Create a Valid Power of Attorney?

Creating a valid California power of attorney document is a critical legal task that involves meeting specific state requirements.

The process involves more than just filling out a power of attorney form and possibly consulting with law offices specializing in conservatorships.

You must ensure the document is properly executed with the necessary witnesses or notarization as mandated by law.

Legal Requirements

In California, establishing a POA involves several legal prerequisites to ensure the document is valid and reflects your intentions clearly as the principal.

Below is a breakdown of these requirements:

Age and CompetencyThe principal must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent.
Specification of PowersThe POA must explicitly specify the powers granted to the agent.
Statutory Form UsageCertain types of POA require using a statutory form for legal validity.
Legal ConsultationSeek legal advice to ensure the POA document meets all legal requirements and intentions.

Execution and Witnesses

To properly execute a power of attorney, you must follow certain steps to ensure its legal validity. Here’s how you can do it:

As the principal (the person granting the power), you must sign the document. You can do this in one of two ways:

In the Presence of Witnesses

Two qualified witnesses must be present during the signing. It’s important to note that:

  • Witnesses must be adults.
  • They cannot be the designated agent (the person receiving the power), a notary, or related to the agent by blood, marriage, or adoption.
  • Witnesses should understand the significance of the document they are witnessing.


As an alternative to having witnesses, you can have your signature notarized. This step involves:

  • Going to a notary public who will confirm the principal’s identity.
  • You demonstrated your understanding and willingness to sign a power of attorney.

How to Revoke or Change a Power of Attorney?

Revoking a POA necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the type you’re revoking.

The process should be handled with care, often involving a conservator to manage your affairs if you’re unable to do so yourself.

To streamline the revocation, consider the following steps:

  1. Draft the revocation document: Begin by drafting a clear and concise revocation notice.
  2. Sign and notarize the document: Ensure the document is legally recognized by signing and notarizing it.
  3. Notify all relevant parties: Share copies with the agent, secondary parties, law firms, and any institutions affected.
  4. Inform financial institutions: Specifically, provide these entities with a copy of the revocation to safeguard against future unauthorized transactions.

This article is for information purposes only and we hope you find it useful. Please do not call us for assistance as we are unable to assist you with any legal matters nor are we able to answer questions relating to the topics covered in this article.

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