Question 1: What is the difference between an attorney at law and a power of attorney?
An attorney at law is a person who is legally allowed to practice law, while a power of attorney is a legal document that any competent adult can create. Through a power of attorney you can select someone else, commonly referred to as an agent or attorney in fact, to have the legal authority to act on your behalf in a variety of capacities. If you hire an attorney at law, this person can represent your interests in court and provide you with legal advice.
Question 2: What does a power of attorney do?
A power of attorney lets you delegate your legal decision-making rights to someone else. These typically come in one of two forms: a financial power of attorney or a health care power of attorney. Financial powers let you, for example, give someone else the right to manage your bank accounts, pay your bills, or enter into contracts for you. Health care powers of attorney, on the other hand, let you choose someone to make medical decisions for you if you should become unconscious or incapacitated. In California these health care decisions are incorporated into an Advance Health Care Directive.
Question 3: Does my attorney-in-fact have to be an attorney?
No. There is no requirement that you choose an attorney at law as your agent or attorney-in-fact. You can choose whomever you wish to serve under your power of attorney as long as that person is a legally competent adult and he or she agrees to serve. Just because the person is known as “ attorney-in-fact” does not in any way require you to hire a lawyer to serve in this position.
Powers of attorney are important legal tools and should be created with the assistance of an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney.