By Andrew Zashin

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows an individual (the principal) to appoint someone else (the agent) to make decisions for, and take actions on behalf of, the individual.

There are several types of POAs, each serving different purposes and granting different levels of authority regarding financial, legal and health care matters. These important tools allow individuals to plan for the future and ensure their affairs are managed according to their wishes. Without POAs, it may be necessary for a court to appoint a guardian or conservator to make decisions on behalf of an individual who becomes unable to make decisions for themselves, which can be both costly and time consuming.

A general POA grants an agent broad authority to act on behalf of a principal in various matters, such as managing finances and signing legal documents. A limited POA, conversely, grants an agent specific powers for a limited time or purpose. For example, an individual might use a limited POA to authorize someone to sell a car or manage a specific financial transaction for the individual. A key aspect of a POA is its durability. A durable POA remains valid even if a principal becomes incapacitated, ensuring the individual’s affairs continue to be managed according to their wishes without the need for court intervention. This makes a durable POA an essential tool in estate planning.

A health care POA similarly authorizes an agent to make medical decisions for a principal. This includes decisions about medical treatments, procedures and end-of-life care. Individuals looking to ensure these medical decisions are made in accordance with their Jewish beliefs and values should consider a Jewish HCPOA, sometimes referred to as a “halachic health care proxy.”

This document allows an individual to designate a trusted agent to make critical medical decisions on the individual’s behalf while ensuring these decisions align with Jewish law, ethics and customs.

Individuals should carefully consider both who they appoint as their agent and the powers they grant to the agent. Individuals should also review and update their POAs regularly to ensure the documents still reflect their wishes and circumstances, particularly after a divorce. Prior to a divorce, an individual’s POA might have named their former spouse as their agent. While in many jurisdictions divorce automatically revokes any provisions in a POA that name a former spouse as an agent, updating a POA after divorce can help clarify an individual’s intentions and prevent any ambiguity in case of incapacity or other emergency.

A power of attorney is a valuable legal tool that allows individuals to appoint someone to make decisions on their behalf. By choosing a trustworthy agent and carefully considering the type of POA that best suits their needs, individuals can ensure their affairs are managed according to their wishes, even if they are unable to make decisions for themselves. I encourage anyone considering a POA to consult with an attorney to make sure they are selecting the POAs or other advance directives that best suit their individual needs and wishes.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.