Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal instrument whereby one person, called the principal, authorizes another person, called the agent or the attorney-in-fact, to act on behalf of the principal. Contrary to some people's beliefs, the agent need not be a lawyer (an attorney-at-law). Powers of attorney can be very broad, or "general" powers of attorney, or limited in scope. To say that someone "has power of attorney" or "is the POA" answers only part of the question. A power of attorney is effective only to the extent a third-party will recognize and follow it.

Some peculiarities exist with respect to powers of attorney in New Jersey. For example, for a power of attorney to continue to be effective after the principal becomes mentally incapacitated, the instrument must be a "durable" power of attorney. If a principal wishes to authorize his or her agent to make gifts, the power of attorney must state this expressly

A principal may appoint more than one agent in his or her power of attorney. The principal can decide whether the agents must act jointly to exercise the powers given, or whether each agent may act separately. The principal also can decide whether the agents act successively. Unless the power of attorney provides otherwise for conditions under which a successor may act, the successor may act only upon the death, resignation, or disability of the predecessor agent named in the instrument.

A power of attorney can be written such that it takes effect immediately, or whether it is a "springing" power of attorney; that is, it springs into action upon the occurrence of a condition, such as the principal's disability.

To be effective in New Jersey, a power of attorney must be in a writing signed by the principal, whose signature is acknowledged by a notary public or an attorney-at-law.