"It can allow someone to make decisions on your behalf, such as health care decisions and financial decisions, almost everything except for changing your will," says Attorney John Coe with Seattle's Coe Law Firm.
Coe says a lot of people don't realize that when they pass away, that power of attorney expires, too. That's when the personal representative named in your will takes over.
"At death, that power of attorney terminates and it's really important to have really good estate planning documents to tell everyone else what's going to happen with you after your death."
For example, you may have told the person with the power of attorney that you wanted to be buried at a specific cemetery. But unless that's specified in your will, so your personal representative knows, you could wind up someplace else.
It sounds crazy, but it could happen. This is just one more reason why estate planning is so important.
For more information
Columbia Legal Services: Q & A on Powers of Attorney
WashingtonHelpLaw.org: Wills, Probate & other Advanced Directives
Consumer Reports: Make Estate Planning a Family Affair