How to sign as power of attorney

The first example of a Contract for Power of Attorney  dates back to 561 BCE. It was concluded in Mesopotamia between immediate family members and empowered one brother to act in business for another. A document that authorized an individual to act on someone else’s behalf (power of attorney) had proven to be of great value in times when people were limited in means of communication and mobility.

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney (POA), also known as a letter of attorney is a legal document that grants one person (the agent) the power to act on behalf of another person (the principal). Today, the power of attorney extends over but is not limited to private affairs, business, decision making related to healthcare, and other legal matters.

The individual who authorizes the other to act as their legal representative is referred to as the principal, grantor, or donor. The individual authorized to act in the name of the principal is referred to as the agent, attorney, or attorney-in-fact. The agent is typically involved in a number of contractual, quasi-contractual, and/or fiduciary relationships acting as a legal representative in business interactions with a third party.

Any individual (a spouse, child, relative, friend, or lawyer) chosen by the principal can fulfill the functions of an agent as long as they are:

  • an adult (reached the age of maturity in their jurisdiction);
  • not filing for or undischarged from bankruptcy;
  • not the owner or employee of a nursing home or extended-care facility where the principal is resident.

An agent doesn’t have to possess any specific qualities. Still, it’s in the principal’s best interest to pick a trustworthy person capable of handling their affairs properly.

Today, a power of attorney does not require to be signed under seal. In some jurisdictions,  powers of attorney have to be notarized or witnessed. In others, a power of attorney becomes legally enforceable as long as it is signed by the principal. In the United States, the power of attorney is governed by the Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPOAA, 2006) and the Uniform Probate Code (UPC, 1969).

How does a power of attorney work?

An agent must act in the principal’s best interest, and abide by their wishes when signing records on their behalf. In other words, an agent must do exactly what the principal would want them to do, no matter what. A power of attorney grants an agent the right to:

  • gain access to the principal’s financial accounts;
  • sign legal records on the principal’s behalf;
  • manage the principal’s legal and business affairs, etc.

What are the most common types of power of attorneys?

Different types of POAs offer different levels of protection for the principal’s rights depending on the use case. When choosing the type of POA for a particular situation, it’s crucial to ensure it works to the principal’s benefit. The most commonly used types of POAs are:

  1. Durable Power of Attorney
  2. Medical Power of Attorney
  3. General Power of Attorney
  4. Limited Power of Attorney
  5. Springing Power of Attorney
  • A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) comes into effect immediately after being signed (unless stated otherwise), and allows an agent to act on a principal’s behalf if they become incapacitated. For instance, if the principal falls into a coma, the agent will have the authority to make financial or health-related decisions and sign records for the principal. A DPOA expires automatically when the principal dies. Also, the principal can revoke a DPOA as long as they’re competent.
  • A Medical Power of Attorney(Advance Directive), allows the principal to appoint a healthcare agent that will make medical decisions for them in the event they become incapacitated due to illness. A Medical POA comes into effect immediately upon being signed, but can only be used if the principal has been declared mentally incompetent by a physician.

The Advance Directive grants an agent the right to make a vast spectrum of healthcare decisions, such as:

  • medical treatment
  • surgery
  • artificial hydration and nutrition
  • organ donation
  • choice of healthcare facilities
  • release of medical records

In addition, the agent must ensure that medical care specified in the principal’s Do Not Resuscitate form or Living Will is given by the healthcare provider.

  • A General Power of Attorney grants an agent the right to make any financial, business, real estate, and legal decisions that would otherwise be the principal’s responsibility, such as:
    • banking transactions
    • operations with property
    • paying bills
    • entering contracts

Since a General POA gives extensive control to the agent, using it is advisable for a limited time when the principal cannot manage their affairs. For instance, when the principal is absent during a long period of traveling abroad. A General POA expires upon the principal’s incapacitation or death. Take note, state statutes may restrict the powers granted under a General Power of Attorney.

  • A Special (Specific/Limited) Power of Attorney gives an agent the power to act on the principal’s behalf, but only in particular cases. For instance, the principal can issue a Special Power of Attorney to allow the agent to cash checks for them. However, an agent won’t be able to manage the principal’s finances fully. Also, this type of POA expires once the task has been completed or at the time stated in the document. It is possible to issue several Special POAs for different agents granting different powers to each of them.
  • A Springing (Conditional) Power of Attorney becomes effective only if a particular event or medical condition specified in the POA occurs. For instance, military personnel can issue a Springing Power of Attorney that goes into effect in the event they’re dispatched overseas. This document can end at a specified time, upon the principal's incapacitation or death.

What are the common use cases for a power of attorney?

As mentioned before, a power of attorney is used in different situations. Listed below are the typical POA industry use cases:

  • Finance

An agent can be given the power to make financial decisions in the principal's name as well as hold other financial powers including the ability to control bank accounts, cash checks, or transfer funds. For instance, in the event a principal was diagnosed with an illness that required long-term hospitalization, they can allow an agent to terminate unneeded bills like cable and internet.

  • Legal

A power of attorney grants an agent the power to handle the principal’s legal matters. They can initiate lawsuits, handle divorce procedures, communicate with a lawyer, file court records, and more. The principal can limit the agent’s powers and ability to commence lawsuits on their behalf.

  • Real Estate

An agent has the power to handle all of the principal’s real estate responsibilities. This includes selling, renting, trading, or managing any personal, residential, and commercial properties owned or rented in the principal’s name. For instance, if the principal is renting out their house, it is possible to empower an agent to manage tenants, sign the lease agreement, and issue notices to enter.

  • Business

An agent can manage a business on the principal’s behalf. This includes employment, budgetary, and investment operations, acting as a proxy in meetings, and voting as a shareholder. For instance, if the principal owns a small business but needs to travel abroad for a long time, they can empower an agent to run a business and manage employees.

  • Other instances

A power of attorney grants an agent a spectrum of other rights, such as:

  • Personal and family maintenance (maintaining the principal’s and their family’s usual standard of living, including children and dependents). 
  • Assistance in hiring (employing professionals on the principal’s behalf).
  • Handling government tax requirements and benefits (filing out and paying the principal’s taxes).
  • Making multiple financial transactions (selling, purchasing, or exchanging goods, making gifts and charity donations, taking loans on behalf of the principal). 
  • Managing assets in a Living Trust (a legal document that places the principal’s assets in trust for their benefit during the principal’s lifetime, and governs where these assets go upon the principal’s death).
  • Changing retirement plans and accepting benefits (for instance, an agent can use the principal’s pension to pay a mortgage).

Despite the principal being able to delegate a vast scope of powers to an agent with a POA, there are certain exemptions, such as:

  • Making, amending, executing, or revoking a will
  • Contracting a marriage 
  • Voting (however, the guardian can request a ballot on behalf of the principal).

How to get a power of attorney?

Get a power of attorney made as a principal by following the steps below:

  1. Define the type of power of attorney needed for this particular instance. A General POA allows an agent to make decisions on behalf of the principal in multiple areas, while A Special POA is used in specific circumstances like taxes or healthcare.
  2. Connect with lawyers in your jurisdiction to learn about the records you need to get a power of attorney made.
  3. Download all the appropriate power of attorney forms from government websites or from the signNow Forms library.  
  4. Go over the form with a lawyer to understand all the legal details and sign the form. The lawyer must ensure that no other individual or institution can challenge the signatures on the records. Take note, an e-signed POA form is legally valid and enforceable under the ESIGN and the UETA laws.

How to revoke a power of attorney?

A principal can revoke their power of attorney at any time, as long as they’re competent and everyone concerned (an agent and third-party organizations) are notified in writing. There are two ways to rescind a power of attorney:

  • By issuing a Revocation of Power of Attorney. This document should be provided to any individual or organization that previously got the power of attorney from the principal. 
  • By including an end date in the power of attorney. In this case, the document is automatically annulled after that date passes.

Finally, all powers of attorney are revoked when the principal dies.

Get a power of attorney rescinded as a principal by following the steps below:

  1. Revoke the currently valid power of attorney
  2. Inform an agent and the concerned third parties in writing
  3. Appoint a new agent

How to fill out a power of attorney?

In the United States, a power of attorney is accepted nationwide, but the requirements differ from state to state. Since a power of attorney must comply with state laws, it can happen that a document issued in one state may not be valid in another state. It’s up to the recipient organization to decide if they should accept a POA issued in another state. The legal validity of the document depends on whether the states have adopted the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. If they haven't, a POA is deemed valid if it complies with the state’s power of attorney laws.

Follow the step-by-step instructions below to fill out a POA form successfully:

1. Check your state’s requirements. In most states, the requirements for a power of attorney are similar, but there are some exceptions. To learn if your state has  special POA forms, go to USLegal. If your situation demands legal help, consider hiring a lawyer to assist you and your agent in meeting the proper requirements for granting the power of attorney. 

In the most general sense, any power of attorney must:

  • identify the principal;
  • identify the agent; 
  • specify what legal acts the agent is entitled to perform.

2. Use the power of attorney form template. Most states don’t require state-issued forms. However, it's a good idea to use a standard form as a template to avoid any confusion and to ensure all parties understand what power is being granted. At that, each state may have a different form for different powers. For instance, in Wisconsin, the forms for a healthcare power of attorney and a financial power of attorney are completely different.

3. Identify the principal and the agent. The form must precisely name the principal who grants the power of attorney. It should also clearly identify the agent to whom the power is being granted. In addition, alternate agents must also be identified if the first agent is unable to act on the principal’s behalf.

4. Identify the powers granted. The principal must precisely identify the powers that are being granted to the agent, when those powers will take effect, and when those powers will terminate. Typically, in this part of a POA form, the principal must also specify if the document is durable or springing, if applicable.

For instance, instead of saying that the agent “has power over the principal’s finances,” say that the agent “has the power to withdraw money and make payments from the principal’s three bank accounts: bank account X, bank account Y, and bank account Z.”

Take note:  if the principal chooses to issue a durable power of attorney, it's crucial to make sure that both the principal and the agent clearly understand what powers and authorities are being conferred.

5. Consider the powers that can’t be granted under state law. If the power of attorney aims to transfer a power that can’t be transferred under the state law, the document has no legal effect as to that power. For instance, the principal and the agent may agree upon, but the agent can’t write or execute a will on the principal’s behalf. A POA is not legally valid for any will-related transactions.

6. Gather witnesses. In some states, having a POA signed in front of one or two witnesses is necessary. If this is relevant in your situation, ensure that witnesses are not only present but paying full attention as the agent and the principal sign the document. This is important as the witnesses may need to testify as to the document’s authenticity in the future. For example, in Florida, a power of attorney must be signed by two witnesses, while in Utah witnesses are not required at all.

7. Draw up a Revocation of Power of Attorney as a precaution. In the event a principal draws up a power of attorney that hasn't expired, but they no longer want it to be in effect, they can draw up a Revocation of Power of Attorney to have it invalidated. Consult a lawyer to make sure it's done correctly.

What is an electronic signature?

The ESIGN Act defines an electronic signature (e-signature) as an electronic sound, symbol, or process, associated with an electronic record used by an individual with the intent to sign it. An e-signature has the same legal standing as a signature in wet ink as long as it complies with the applicable legal framework.

How do electronic signatures work?

One of the most popular document formats used in paperless workflows is PDF. Whenever an individual e-signs a PDF, the image of their signature is placed on its top layer. In other words, an electronic signature becomes a visual representation of a handwritten signature or a signer’s full name. Anyone can insert an e-signature into a PDF document using applicable e-signature apps on different devices.

Here’s how to create an electronic signature:

  • draw your signature on the screen of a smartphone or tablet or the trackpad of a laptop;
  • attach a photo of your hardcopy signature to a digital document; 
  • type your full name in a field of an e-signature app.

E-signature apps facilitate the signing process by helping individuals and companies request electronic signatures when sending PDF documents to partners and clients. An e-signature proves that both the sender and the recipient have the intention to sign a document and consent to do business electronically.

Electronic signatures are used routinely in different spheres of life for a majority of document-related transactions. E-signature use cases vary from tax forms and power of attorneys to policy declaration forms, teacher reports, etc.

Can a power of attorney be signed electronically?

As mentioned before, two laws govern the use of electronic signatures in the United States – the ESIGN and the UETA Acts. In states that have adopted UETA, it is the UETA regulations, and not ESIGN, that will apply to any state law for power of attorney. In the three states that haven’t adopted UETA  (New York, Illinois, and Washington), the use of e-signatures is governed by state laws on electronic records, or the ESIGN Act. Altogether, the UETA, the ESIGN Acts, and the applicable state laws are referred to as the eCommerce laws.

In the most general sense, a power of attorney is a formal appointment of an agent that will act on the principal’s behalf. A POA doesn’t need to be in writing, to have legal effect in many states. The specific instances when a POA document needs to be in written form are established by statute. The exceptions vary depending on the state and often include healthcare directives, POAs used in real estate transactions, and durable powers of attorney. DPOAs, unlike general agency appointments, are enforceable even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated.

The legal nuances of using electronic signatures for the power of attorney

Under the eCommerce laws, most POAs can be executed in electronic form with or without authorization. The purpose of the POA often defines if the applicable eCommerce law will deem an electronically executed POA enforceable. For instance, the UETA and the ESIGN only authorize the use of electronic records and signatures in connection with a transaction. By “transaction” we mean “an action that happens between two or more individuals related to the conduct of business, commercial, or governmental affairs."

Suppose a POA is issued to alleviate the execution of a note, mortgage, and deed as part of a real estate transaction. The appointment of an agent in the POA document is an action between two individuals (the principal and the agent), whereas the execution and delivery of the POA are related to the conduct of commercial affairs. Therefore, the eCommerce laws authorize the use of electronic records and signatures in its execution. Since there is no requirement for the POA to be in writing, using an electronic record and signature to appoint an agent is unnecessary, but possible.

For states that haven’t adopted the Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPAA), the application of the eCommerce laws to a durable power of attorney or a healthcare directive is less transparent. Both records typically authorize an agent to act as the principal's representative in a vast scope of situations. At that, some situations may relate to transactions, while others may not. What's more, it may be unclear that the appointment of an agent is directly related to conducting business, commercial, or governmental affairs.

The ability to use electronic records and e-signatures for signing a POA may depend on the following factors:

  • the purpose of the POA creation;
  • specific legal requirements related to the POA creation; 
  • the purpose of the POA use.

For states that have adopted UPAA, the ability to use electronic records and e-signatures for durable powers of attorney is more transparent. It is possible to e-sign a POA, except for those related to healthcare and other exemptions.

For states that haven’t adopted the UETA, there may be additional nuances. For instance, Washington state adopted UPAA but did not adopt the provisions allowing for the use of electronic records or signatures. New York expressly excludes certain POAs from coverage under the New York Electronic Signatures and Records Act but separately authorizes electronic execution of some POAs under other law.

What makes an e-signature legally valid?

In short, the e-signing process is a single-factor authorization implying a signer's identity through verification and proof of signing. Section 101 of the ESIGN Act establishes the legal grounds for e-signature validity and enforceability:

  • All parties involved in the e-signature process must give affirmative consent to using electronic signatures. 
  • The process of e-signature creation must be recorded using applicable software and devices.
  • Records of electronic signatures must be stored and accessible for accurate reproduction.

Both the Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPOAA, 2006) and the Uniform Probate Code (UPC, 1969) contain provisions governing the use of electronic signatures for a power of attorney:

SECTION 402 of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act and SECTION 2-1117 of the Uniform Probate Code state that both acts modify, limit, and supersede the ESIGN Act, but do not modify, limit, or supersede Section 101(c) of that act, or authorize electronic delivery of any of the notices described in Section 103(b) of that act.

In other words, it means that the federal law can be preempted by a later statute of the state that specifically refers to the federal law. The ESIGN’s consumer consent provisions laid out in Section 101(c) and its notice provisions Section 103(b) are not subject to preemption by the states. When it comes to using e-signatures for the power of attorney, the process is regulated by state laws and statutes.

So, what makes an e-signature legally valid and enforceable? Despite being legally valid, e-signed records can become unacceptable as court evidence due to the absence of audit logs or weaknesses in the authentication process. For this reason, any e-signature solution must satisfy a broader list of requirements:

  • Unique e-signature attributed to each signer. Every time an electronic document is sent for signature, the signer uses a one-of-a-kind e-signature associated only with them.
  • Choice of signer authentication methods. A variety of authentication options (an email address, IP address, and time of document access) can be used to verify a signer’s identity. The option of adding two-factor authentication to any document should also be made available.
  • Cloud storage. Electronic records must be retained in secure cloud storage. Anyone involved in the signing process must have a possibility to view and download a copy of the e-signed document.
  • Detailedaudit log. All parties involved in the signing process must be able to access a full document history within the e-signature app. An audit log must include the history of uploading, adding elements, viewing, and e-signing associated with each signer.
  • Compliance with security standards. The e-signature solution must comply with security standards and guarantee the security of sensitive information.

How to e-sign a power of attorney in signNow

signNow allows users to e-sign a power of attorney form in several clicks and send signature invites to other users. No need to look for a POA form, as signNow has an extensive database of legal documents as a part of the airSlate Business Cloud.

Follow the step-by-step instructions below to e-sign a power of attorney with signNow:

1. Get a blank power of attorney form template valid for your state from a lawyer. Alternatively, you can download a POA form in PDF format from the USLegal website. signNow supports a majority of popular document formats (PDF, DOCX, PPTX) and image formats (JPG/JPEG, PNG).

2. Log in to your signNow account. From your Homepage, you can:

  • pick an already uploaded document or template from the signNow Documents folder;
  • import a file stored on your device to create a new document/template.

3. To upload a power of attorney form to your signNow account, click the “Upload Documents” button at the top of the Homepage. Choose the power of attorney PDF to upload it to signNow from your device. Alternatively, you can drag and drop the power of attorney right onto the signNow Homepage. Once the form is uploaded, click on it to proceed.

1. Go to the Edit & Sign section on the right side of the screen and select Text to create fillable text fields to fill out the introductory part of the POA meant for the principal. If you are the principal, type in your full name, city, and state of residence, the name of the agent you intend to appoint, and specify the powers you want to grant the agent with.

2. In the next part of the POA form, you, as the principal, will need to specify the period of validity for the power of attorney. Next, you’ll need to specify the date the power of attorney comes into effect. Finally, both the principal and the agent have to confirm their consent by typing in their full names and signing the document with their e-signatures.

3. To e-sign the power of attorney form, go to the Edit & Sign section, then click My Signature.

4. Activate the signature field by clicking on it, then sign the document. Once you click on the signature field, a pop-up window will appear where you can select how you want to e-sign your power of attorney.

Choose one of the following three options:

  • Type Your Signature. Type in your full name to create a new signature.

Don’t hesitate to modify the look and style of your e-signature using the Change Style option. Next, select an alternative font for your electronic signature.

  • Draw Your Signature. Draw a signature by hand using a mouse or trackpad in the empty field.

  • Upload Your Signature. Drag and drop orupload an image of your signature in JPG, GIF, or PNG format from your device. Make sure the image size is under 4 Mb.

5. In case you have several signatures created in your signNow account, it’s possible to set one of them as a default. In the Select Your Signature pop-up, choose the signature you like most and click “Set as My Default Signature”.

6. If everything looks fine, click the Sign buttonto complete the process.

How can I e-sign a power of attorney as the agent?

For the power of attorney to become valid, it has to be signed by not only the principal but also by the agent. As mentioned before, in some states, a power of attorney must be attested by one or two witnesses and in most cases, it needs to be notarized by a public notary.

With signNow, not only can the principal send a signature invite to an agent(s), but also get the POA notarized remotely, unless otherwise specified by state law.

Follow the step-by-step instructions below to use signNow’s Invite to Sign feature:

Suppose, you are the principal who wants to send a power of attorney to the agent for e-signature.

1. On your signNow Homepage, click the Invite to Sign button next to the power of attorney. Alternatively, if you want to view other options, click the More button on the right to see the dropdown menu. After that, you’ll be redirected to a new window where you can fill in the agent’s name and email address.

It’s possible to add more signers and send a carbon copy to anyone who needs to follow the signing process. In case you, as the principal, want to appoint other agents, you can also invite them to sign the power of attorney. All you need to do is specify the signing order.

2. Click Invite to Sign on the right. You’ll be redirected to a new window where you can fill in the signer’s name and email address.

3. After you’ve defined the signing order, click the Save Signers button in the bottom-right corner of the pop-up. Add the signature fields to the document where necessary. Once you’re finished, click the Invite to Sign button in the top-right corner of the screen.

4. You’ll be forwarded to the final stage where you can check if the agent’s name and email address are correct. Click the Send Invite button. The agent will then get an invitation to e-sign your PDF.

Note:  if you change your mind about sending the invitation(s), click the Cancel Inviting button to revoke your signature invitation.

5. The same sequence of steps is applicable for sending a power of attorney form for e-signature to a notary if this complies with state law.

6. In case you need to use other settings, click the Advanced Options button. Feel free to set an expiration date between 3 to 180 days and send out automatic reminders if the document hasn’t been e-signed. Activate the Allow Forwarding and Show Decline on Signatures options if needed.

How to send a power of attorney to other signers with signNow?

With signNow, the author of the document can collect e-signatures with a signing link. It is a unique link attributed to a specific document that can be forwarded to other signers. In other words, each link recipient can e-sign an electronic document and get their copy of it.

To send a signing link to other signers, click the Create Signing Link button next to the document. Next, copy the signing link and send it via email, messenger, etc. to another person.

Take note: once the author of the document changes or deletes it, or when a guest signer enters the signing session,the signing link will expire. You can track all modifications made to the document with the help of the History option. 

Improve your e-signing experience with more signNow features

signNow offers a scope of other features for individuals, small to medium-sized businesses, and enterprises:

1. Make templates from documents. It’s possible to reuse a specific document for e-signing multiple times by making new copies of it in signNow. Here’s how to transform a frequently used document into a template: 

  • Go to the Documents folder and click the More button placed on the far right from a chosen document. In the dropdown menu, choose Make Template
  • Next, a pop-up window will appear where you can change the name of the document and confirm that you’re willing to convert the document into a template. Use the input field to give the new template a unique name. 
  • Click the Create Template button at the bottom of the pop-up. The new template will appear in the Templates folder.

Feel free to use the Invite to Sign and Create Signing Link functionality to share a template with other signers. Other standard signNow features are available as well.

2. Conditional routing. signNow allows multiple signers to collaborate on a single document. The Conditional routing feature makes fillable fields dependent (conditional) on the signers’ roles. In other words, a conditional field becomes visible and fillable only when the field it depends on, has a value or is left empty. Once an author of the document sets the conditional fields, changing the signing order and/or adding the document to any Document Group will be impossible.

3. Requestpayments from signers. This feature is one of the Advanced Options of Invite to Sign. To set up payment options,scroll down to the Payment Settings, and tick Request payment from a signer. To be able to accept payments, you need to configure a merchant provider account and currency. Make sure you have a valid payment system account to receive payments.

4. Request attachments. The author of the electronic document can request that signers attach extra files. For example, it is possible to get a document package from the signer by requesting to upload attachments before they e-sign a document. To do this, insert a Request Attachment field where needed and specify the attachment type.

5. Calculated fields. With signNow, users can automatebusiness calculations in the document.Calculated fieldsuse formulas that process values from text and dropdown fields. The available calculations include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and parentheses.

To use the Calculated fields feature in the signNow editor, just place a Text field or a Dropdown field anywhere on the document. A Calculated field can’t be filled manually. When all required fields have numerical values, the total sum will be generated automatically and appear in the Calculated field.

In conclusion

In the United States, the use of electronic signatures in paperless workflows is governed by a solid legal framework. However, when it comes to e-signing a power of attorney, each situation must be assessed by a lawyer to ensure compliance with the laws applicable in a particular jurisdiction. signNow alleviates the e-signature process for a power of attorney and can be used for electronic notarization unless otherwise specified by the state law.

Grady Andersen
Grady Andersen
Contributing Writer
December 22, 2020