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How does a power of attorney work in Texas?

Many Houston residents may have heard the phrase "power of attorney" used in the context of estate planning without fully understanding what the terms means and how it can help an individual or a couple prepare for their old age and, ultimately, their last illnesses and deaths.

A durable power of attorney in Texas gives a person's "attorney in fact" broad authority to manage the person's property on the person's behalf. This power is particularly important when a person is too sick or frail to manage his or her own finances, since at that point, the attorney in fact would have the legal authority to continue to handle the person's affairs even without that person's knowledge.

Texas law specifies how long a power of attorney lasts and even has a proposed form power of attorney that Houston residents and other Texans can use. A couple of things are worthy of note, however. For one, a Texas resident has the right to limit the powers he or she transfers to his or her attorney in fact simply by indicating as much on the form he or she signs.

Furthermore, attorneys in fact, just like other trustees, executors and fiduciaries, do not have absolute power to handle everything on behalf of the principal, that is, the person who created the power of attorney. One common example is that an attorney in fact cannot on account of the power of attorney provide professional legal services on behalf of the principal or represent the principal directly in court.

Another important reminder is that the power of attorney being discussed here involves the handling of a person's financial affairs. A separate document may be required in order to give a person the authority to make important medical decisions on a patient's behalf.

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