A power of attorney is a legal document that allows an individual (known as the principal) to grant authority to another person to act on their behalf. This person, or agent, does not have to be a lawyer; they can be another adult, or an institution. The agent should be someone that the principle trusts to manage their affairs, and someone that they know well. When a veteran has a health condition or another reason for needing a legal representative, they may choose to get a power of attorney.
In a power of attorney document, the only authority granted is what is described in the document. There are some things that cannot be granted in a power of attorney, such as creating or altering a will. Additionally, a power of attorney is only considered a legal document in the state where it is executed if it meets the requirements of that state; each state has different requirements. Therefore, powers of attorney vary from state to state, and there is no standardized format for these documents. There may be different requirements for signatures, notarization, dates, and witnesses.
Power of attorney is a legal tool that can be used in situations when an individual is incapacitated, and is unable to make decisions for themselves. However, power of attorney can also be used by veterans who are filing claims for VA benefits. In this case, veterans utilize a power of attorney as a source of legal assistance in filing their claim.
VA Form 21-22 allows an individual to act as a representative of a veteran when pursuing a claim, which allows veterans to seek assistance from a trusted consultant or attorney to help them through the claims process. This allows the veteran to ultimately present the best possible claim to the VA.
Veterans may also choose to use a power of attorney for different reasons other than health care, such as:
- Not being able to be physically present to negotiate or sign a document
- Needing to get a loan from the VA when purchasing a house
What are the different types of power of attorney?
There are several different types of power of attorney that can be used for different situations. Each type is handled differently by the VA. The different types include:
- General power of attorney: This is the most broad type. This allows a representative to take control of a person’s finances, medical decisions, and real estate. Often, a general power of attorney is used by the elderly to allow a family member to make decisions on their behalf; this is not often used by veterans who are filing VA disability claims. In most states, a general power of attorney is not valid if the principal becomes incapacitated
- In this context, incapacity means the principal does not have the mental capacity to know what they are doing; power of attorney must be granted prior to the principal becoming incapacitated in order for it to be valid.
- Durable and spring powers of attorney: Durable power of attorney gives a representative power over a person’s finances when the individual is unable to handle them on their own, either on a temporary or permanent basis. These forms are tied to a specific incidence that will activate the power of attorney, such as when a person becomes incapacitated. VA Form 10-0137 allows a veteran to select a representative to serve as a power of attorney for health care and a living will.
- A durable power of attorney usually must be signed and notarized, as well as specified as being durable; it will continue to be in effect in the event the principal becomes incapacitated. It can be cancelled at any time, as long as the principal has capacity.
- Specific power of attorney: This type is used when a person names a representative for a specific aspect of their life, such as a veteran designating their lawyer as their personal representative when filing a claim with the VA for disability benefits.
- Health care durable power of attorney/medical power of attorney: This lets a principal choose someone to make medical decisions for them if they become incapacitated. This type of power of attorney lets an agent make medical decisions, but does not grant control over the principal’s finances or other non-medical affairs.
Veterans may give power of attorney to their lawyer in order to help make the VA disability claims process easier. Seeking these benefits can be time consuming and may be challenging, so a lawyer can help a veteran navigate the process. A power of attorney allows lawyers to file documents on their client’s behalf.
Disability Lawyers and Power of Attorney
While lawyers are able to provide power of attorney assistance to veterans, there are some limits to what lawyers are able to do. Specific power of attorney can be granted for the process of filing VA benefits; this ensures that a lawyer can only make decisions on a veteran’s behalf regarding their disability claim with the VA.
With a power of attorney for VA purposes, a lawyer is only allowed to file VA documents and communicate with the VA on the veteran’s behalf. Having a power of attorney for this purpose does not necessarily expedite the decision-making process by the VA, but it does ensure that the representative filing the claims paperwork is knowledgeable about the process and will make sure that the correct information is provided to the VA.
When a veteran has received their VA benefits and no longer needs legal representation, a power of attorney can be revoked by the veteran seeking representation. Additionally, if a veteran passes away during the claims process, their dependent would have to sign a new power of attorney, making them eligible to continue the veteran’s claim.
A power of attorney is a valuable tool that veterans can use in many situations. In terms of the VA, a power of attorney can help veterans get the benefits they need.
Heather Maxey works at a non-profit that addresses military ineligibility. She is an Army spouse, and met her husband while working as a Health Educator at Fort Bragg.
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