Durable Power of Attorney Documents

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

What is a power of attorney document?

A power of attorney document lets you choose a trusted friend or relative to help you with your finances and/or health care decisions. After you sign it, the person you choose will take the power of attorney document to your medical providers, bank, school, and other places to make decisions and sign contracts just as if he or she were you.  

Who is my "agent"?

Your "agent" is the trusted friend or relative you choose to help you with your finances and/or health care decisions.

What does "durable" mean?

"Durable" means your agent can keep helping you even if you become sick or injured and cannot make decisions for yourself.

What should I do with my power of attorney document after I sign it?

Make two copies. Give the original document to your agent, give one copy to your alternate agent, and keep the second copy for yourself.

What does "revoke" mean?

It means to cancel. You can revoke your power of attorney document at any time with a written notice to your agent. You can also give a copy of the written notice to your medical providers, bank, school, and other places that might accept the old power of attorney document. A sample "Notice of Revocation" is included in this packet.

What if I need legal help?

If you are low-income and live outside King County, call the CLEAR hotline Monday-Friday from 9:15 am to 12:15 pm at 1-888-201-1014. You can also apply online at: http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.

If you live in King County, call 211 for information and referral to a legal services provider Monday-Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. You can find more information online at: www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.  

Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired callers can call CLEAR or 211 using the relay service of their choice.

211 and CLEAR will conference in interpreters when needed at no cost to callers. 


Here are some terms you may find helpful when reading a power of attorney document:

  • Agent: the trusted person you choose to help you with your finances or health care.
  • Beneficiary: the person who gets money or property. For example, if you have life insurance and you die, the person who gets the insurance money is called a beneficiary. The person who gets money or property from a trust is also called a beneficiary.
  • Beneficiary Designation: the part of a contract that says who should be the beneficiary. For example, the beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy is the part that says who will get the money after you die.
  • Binding Arbitration: a process for resolving legal disputes with a company outside of a court. Usually, arbitration limits your right to a jury trial, limits the amount of money you can be awarded, and prevents you from bringing a class action lawsuit against the company.  Also, arbitrators are usually picked by the company.
  • Community Property Agreement: a written agreement between a married couple or domestic partners that says when one dies, all of their property will automatically go to the other.
  • Personal Property: things like cash, stocks, jewelry, clothing, furniture or cars.
  • Real Property: buildings and land.
  • Revoke: to cancel.
  • Rights of survivorship: a written agreement between people who own property together. The agreement says when one co-owner dies, the other co-owner(s) automatically gets the property.
  • Trust: a written agreement where money and property is owned by a trust and managed by one person (trustee) for the benefit of another person or people (beneficiary or beneficiaries). Usually you need to hire a lawyer to set up a trust.
  • Trustee: the person who manages a trust.

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  
It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. This information is current as of August 2016.

Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes.

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Last Review and Update: Aug 16, 2016
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