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Powers of Attorney Sometimes Necessary in Military Life

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2001 – There are many occasions during the course of a military career that a power of attorney might be necessary. But, legal experts caution, do your homework before granting one to somebody.

"Typically, service members will need a power of attorney when they may be deploying or going overseas and leaving their loved ones behind to handle the affairs of the household," Navy Lt. Joan Malik said. Malik is a legal assistance attorney in the Pentagon's Joint Service Legal Assistance Office.

There are two basic types of power of attorney, special and general. A general power of attorney basically gives the person who holds it the power to conduct business in your name, Malik said.

Service members can grant a special power of attorney, which spells out the specific ways it can be used. She said the more specific a power of attorney is the better. This prevents people from using it for purposes other than those the service member intended.

"Don't give a general power of attorney to someone you don't trust wholeheartedly," she said. Base legal assistance attorneys can help service members determine which type of power of attorney will best meet their needs.

Service members commonly need to issue powers of attorney when they change assignments. They often leave their spouses behind to sell cars, move out of government quarters and myriad other things. Those spouses often need legal authorization to conduct the necessary business.

Service members may also need a power of attorney to provide the person caring for their dependent children during a deployment or exercise. Caregivers may need a power of attorney to enroll children in school or other activities, Malik said. Caregivers would particularly need a power of attorney to authorize medical treatment if a child needs it, she said.

Medical powers of attorney are used if a person becomes incapacitated and someone else needs to make medical decisions. "This document designates who you want to speak on your behalf regarding your care," Malik said. She suggested sitting down with the person who holds your power of attorney to make sure they understand your wishes in different circumstances.

Generally, Malik explained, powers of attorney are granted for one year. She said a member can revoke a power of attorney in two ways if circumstances change.

The first and simpler is to physically destroy the original document, Malik said.

The second is to write a letter of revocation, have it notarized and send a copy to the person holding the power of attorney. It's best to also send a copy of the revocation to places where the person is likely to use the power of attorney, such as banks or moving companies.

Military service members and their families can have powers of attorney drawn up and notarized at most base legal assistance offices. Malik recommended troops call their legal assistance office if they have any questions about powers of attorney.

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