Comparing Durable Power of Attorney vs Power of Attorney

Making future preparations is an essential part of responsible planning. When illness, accidents or aging limit our ability to make sound decisions, having legal documents in place allows trusted friends or family to step in on our behalf. Power of Attorney (POA) and Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) are two common legal tools that allow others to manage finances, healthcare, and other matters if we become incapacitated. But what exactly sets them apart? This article will explore the key differences between standard POA and DPOA to help you make informed choices when establishing legal representation.

Our goal here is to provide a detailed comparison of these two critical legal instruments. By the end, readers will have a firm grasp on distinctions between POA and DPOA and can confidently select the right option for their unique needs and situation. With proper understanding, these powerful documents can provide vital protection and peace of mind.

Understanding Power of Attorney (POA)

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that designates an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact” to manage certain affairs and make specified decisions on the “principal’s” behalf. A competent adult can grant POA powers to a trusted person to act as their surrogate for financial, legal, healthcare or other defined matters.

Some common types of POA include:

  • General Power of Attorney – Covers a wide range of financial and legal decisions. Allows agent broad authority.
  • Limited or Special Power of Attorney – Grants authority over specific matters like selling property or managing a business.
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney – Gives agent authority on medical decisions if principal cannot consent.
  • Springing Power of Attorney – Takes effect only if principal becomes incapacitated. Remains dormant before.

A POA is established when the principal signs a POA contract granting authority to the agent. It goes into effect immediately unless specified as “springing.” A POA terminates when:

  • The principal revokes POA privileges.
  • The principal becomes incapacitated (unless its a DPOA).
  • The principal passes away.
  • The agent resigns or dies.
  • The purpose of the POA is fulfilled.

The principal must have sufficient mental capacity when signing the POA. Agents have a legal “fiduciary duty” to act in the principal’s best interest. But POA does have limitations…

Exploring Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA)

Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) serves the same basic purpose as a standard POA, but with one crucial difference – it remains valid even if the principal loses mental capacity or becomes incapacitated. This important feature, known as “durability”, is what distinguishes DPOA from normal POA.

DPOAs primarily come in two main forms:

  • Durable Financial Power of Attorney – Handles finances if incapacitated.
  • Durable Medical Power of Attorney – Grants healthcare authority if unable to consent.

For a DPOA to become active, the principal must be deemed incapacitated by licensed physicians based on rigorous legal standards. DPOAs give agents broad authority to make decisions as the principal would.

Historical Context and Legal Evolution

The concept of POA dates back centuries in English common law. It allowed another person to act on one’s behalf if they were abroad or “beyond the seas.” The term “Power of Attorney” emerged in the 1600s. POA practices expanded significantly into everyday legal matters by the 1700s.

The durable power of attorney emerged relatively recently in legal history. Prior to the 1950s, a POA immediately terminated if the principal became incapacitated. This prevented agents from acting when often needed most. After recognizing this major gap, states began authorizing “durability” provisions to fix the problem.

By the 1960s, all states provided for durable POA in some form. Additional consumer protections were added over time. Healthcare POAs also expanded after high-profile legal cases increased focus on end-of-life decisions in the 1970s and 80s.

Comparing DPOA and POA

Let’s do a direct comparison of standard POA and DPOA:


  • POA – Takes effect immediately when signed, unless “springing” POA.
  • DPOA – Only takes effect upon principal’s incapacity, determined by licensed professionals.


  • POA – Automatically ends if principal loses mental capacity.
  • DPOA – Remains valid during incapacity due to “durability” clause.

Powers Granted

  • POA – Agent’s powers end if principal becomes incapacitated.
  • DPOA – Agent retains powers to continue acting on principal’s behalf.

To see the difference in action, imagine Jane grants POA to her sister Joan to manage her finances while she travels abroad for work. If Jane suffered an accident overseas and became incapacitated, Joan’s POA would immediately be void. But with a DPOA, Joan could keep conducting Jane’s financial affairs until she recovered.

Comparing DPOA and POA

Ethical Considerations and Responsibilities

Granting legal power of attorney is a major responsibility for both principal and agent. The agent has a fiduciary duty to adhere to the principal’s wishes and act in their best interest. Failure do so could constitute criminal abuse of the power entrusted to them.

Some key ethical obligations for agents include:

  • Making decisions as the principal would, not based on self-interest.
  • Keeping the principal’s money and property separate from their own.
  • Maintaining clear records and accounting of all transactions.
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest and self-dealing.

The principal should only designate trustworthy individuals with strong integrity as agents. It’s wise to discuss expectations openly. Establishing safeguards and oversight provisions provides extra protection.

Role of State Laws in POA and DPOA

While federal law recognizes POA and DPOA, many specifics are dictated by each state’s legislation. State laws cover issues like:

  • Who may serve as an agent.
  • Required language and provisions.
  • Witnessing and notarization procedures.
  • Scope of authority permitted.
  • Revocation procedures.
  • Registration requirements.

These requirements for creating valid POA can vary significantly across states. It’s essential to consult local laws and legal guidance when drafting POA or DPOA documents. What’s proper in one state may be unauthorized or invalid in another.

Choosing the Right Power of Attorney

So when should someone consider a standard POA versus durable POA? Here are some key factors to inform your decision:

Reason for POA – If it’s for temporary purposes like a short trip, standard POA may suffice. For long-term incapacity planning, DPOA is typically the best fit.

Type of Authority – DPOA is often preferable for financial and healthcare matters, where continued management if incapacitated is crucial. For more limited, temporary authority needs, basic POA may be the route to take.

Principal’s Preference – Those who value retained control may want standard POA that expires if incapacitated. But for maximum asset protection, DPOA is generally recommended.

Agent’s Capabilities – Consider if the agent can responsibly manage broader authority over long periods. DPOA requires utmost trust and confidence.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Prioritizing your unique planning goals and risk factors will lead to the ideal solution.

Digital Assets and POA

In today’s digital age, granting agent access to online assets is crucial when establishing POA or DPOA. Legal documents should address authority over digital accounts, profiles, and properties that may require ongoing management.

Both POA and DPOA can authorize power over digital assets. But some online platforms have restrictions, so including specific permissions is advised. Providing login credentials is also important for agents to fully conduct authorized digital duties.

Setting Up POA or DPOA

The process for establishing power of attorney includes:

  • Determining the type of POA needed and scope of authority. Be as explicit as possible.
  • Formally documenting the agreement in writing following statutory guidelines. Most states provide templates.
  • Including required elements like powers granted, revocation clause, and specific instructions.
  • Signing the POA contract in front of the requested witnesses – often 2 or 3 individuals.
  • Getting the signature notarized according to local laws. Some states require notarization.
  • Registering the POA with appropriate government agencies, if mandated.

Choosing a trusted agent is paramount. Discuss expectations thoroughly with your selected representative.

Revoking or Changing a POA/DPOA

Principals retain the right to revoke POA/DPOA privileges or make modifications by:

  • Sending written notice to the agent terminating their authority.
  • Creating a new contract naming a different agent.
  • Including revocation terms in the original document.
  • Following revocation procedures under applicable state laws.

It’s crucial to notify all impacted third parties like financial institutions if revoking POA. This prevents unauthorized actions by prior agents.

Common Misconceptions and Pitfalls

There are some prevalent myths when it comes to granting POA:

Myth: POA grants decision making power to the agent right away.

Truth: The principal retains full control until incapacitated, unless using springing POA.

Myth: Online POA templates are sufficient.

Truth: POA laws vary significantly by state, so customized documents are essential.

Myth: Once appointed, an agent can never be changed.

Truth: The principal can revoke or modify POA/DPOA anytime as long as they have capacity.

Myth: An agent has complete authority over the principal.

Truth: Agents must adhere to the principal’s wishes and act responsibly. Abuse can create major liability.

Common pitfalls like designating unreliable agents, failing to outline exact powers, or neglecting ongoing oversight can make POA/DPOA risky. But when crafted thoughtfully, they powerfully safeguard your interests.

Case Studies and Examples

Let’s look at some real-life scenarios to see durable and standard POAs in action:

Example 1: Laura designated her husband Dan as financial DPOA. When Laura developed dementia, Dan was able to keep paying her bills and managing investments under the DPOA even after she became incapacitated.

Example 2: Jay granted his brother POA for a month-long trip abroad. Halfway through the trip, Jay had a severe stroke leaving him unable to make decisions. Because the POA was not durable, Jay’s brother could not continue acting as Jay’s agent.

Example 3: Marie appointed her DPOA agent to handle her healthcare choices. This allowed her agent to move Marie into assisted living based on her wishes when Marie could no longer live independently due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Proper use of POA/DPOA provides vital protection. But granting excessive authority or failing to monitor agents can lead to financial exploitation as some news stories have highlighted.


The differences between POA and DPOA boil down to duration and resilience. Durable provisions ensure your interests are protected even if incapacitated – when action is needed most. For temporary delegations, standard POA suffices. Together, they allow trusted individuals to serve as surrogates when we cannot make decisions alone.

I hope this guide provides clarity in distinguishing between these two essential legal instruments. The right preparation goes a long way in times of uncertainty. Consult an attorney to craft a POA or DPOA that’s tailored to your needs and complies with laws. With the proper safeguards in place, you can handle life’s changes with confidence.