What Is The Difference Between General And Special Power Of Attorney?

probate services
What Is The Difference Between General And Special Power Of Attorney?

In the realm of legal and financial affairs, a Power of Attorney (POA) is a vital tool that allows an individual to delegate their decision-making authority to another person. Understanding the nuances between a General Power of Attorney and a Special (or Limited) Power of Attorney is crucial for anyone considering this legal arrangement. This article delves into the definitions, uses, and key differences between these two types of Power of Attorney, providing a comprehensive guide for individuals seeking to make informed decisions.

Understanding Power of Attorney

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants one person (the agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to act on behalf of another person (the principal) in legal or financial matters. The scope of this authority can vary widely, depending on the type of POA and the specific powers granted within the document.

Importance of Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is essential in situations where an individual is unable to manage their own affairs due to illness, absence, or incapacity. It ensures that their interests are protected and their affairs are handled efficiently and in accordance with their wishes.

General Power of Attorney


A General Power of Attorney provides broad authority to the agent to act on behalf of the principal in a wide range of matters. This type of POA is typically comprehensive and covers various aspects of the principal’s affairs.

Scope of Authority

Under a General Power of Attorney, the agent can perform numerous actions, such as:

  • Managing Financial Transactions: This includes handling bank accounts, paying bills, and managing investments.
  • Real Estate Transactions: The agent can buy, sell, lease, or manage property.
  • Legal Decisions: The agent can make decisions regarding legal matters, including filing lawsuits or defending the principal in court.
  • Business Operations: If the principal owns a business, the agent can make business-related decisions.

Duration and Termination

A General Power of Attorney typically remains in effect until the principal revokes it, becomes incapacitated, or passes away. However, it is crucial to note that a General POA does not survive the incapacity of the principal unless it is a Durable Power of Attorney, which remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated.

Use Cases

A general power of attorney is often used when the principal expects to be unavailable or needs someone to manage their affairs comprehensively. For example, expatriates, individuals undergoing long-term medical treatment, or those with extensive business interests may benefit from a General POA.

Special (or Limited) Power of Attorney


A Special or Limited Power of Attorney grants the agent authority to act on behalf of the principal in specific situations or for particular tasks. Unlike a General POA, it is restrictive and confined to the areas explicitly mentioned in the document.

Scope of Authority

The authority under a Special Power of Attorney is limited to the specific matters outlined by the principal. This could include:

  • Real Estate Transactions: Authorising the agent to sell a particular property.
  • Financial Matters: Allowing the agent to manage a specific investment or bank account.
  • Medical Decisions: Empowering the agent to make healthcare decisions on the principal’s behalf.
  • Legal Actions: Permitting the agent to represent the principal in a particular legal matter.

Duration and Termination

A Special Power of Attorney is usually time-bound or task-specific. It terminates upon the completion of the specified task, at the end of the designated time period, or if the principal revokes it. Similar to a General POA, it also terminates upon the principal’s incapacity or death, unless it is a Durable Power of Attorney.

Use Cases

A Special Power of Attorney is ideal for principals who need assistance with specific tasks or transactions. For instance, a property owner who is abroad and needs to sell a house or an individual who requires someone to manage their medical treatment decisions while they are incapacitated would benefit from a special POA.

Key Differences Between General and Special Powers of Attorney

Scope of Authority

  • General POA: Broad and comprehensive, covering a wide range of actions and decisions.
  • Special POA: Narrow and specific, limited to particular tasks or decisions as defined by the principal.


  • General POA: Typically remains in effect until revoked by the principal, the principal’s incapacity, or death.
  • Special POA: Usually terminates upon the completion of the specified task or at the end of a predetermined period.

Use Cases

  • General POA: Suitable for principals needing ongoing and wide-ranging assistance.
  • Special POA: Ideal for principals requiring help with specific tasks or in certain situations.

Complexity and Detail

  • General POA: Less detailed in scope, granting broad authority, which can lead to potential misuse if not carefully managed.
  • Special POA: More detailed and focused, reducing the risk of misuse as the agent’s authority is clearly defined and limited.

Choosing the Right Power of Attorney

Assessing Needs

Determining whether a General or Special Power of Attorney is appropriate involves assessing the principal’s needs.

  • Comprehensive Management: If the principal needs extensive help with various aspects of their life, a General POA might be more suitable.
  • Specific Tasks: If the principal only needs assistance with particular tasks or during certain periods, a Special POA is the better choice.

Legal Advice

Consulting with a solicitor or legal advisor is crucial when drafting a Power of Attorney. They can provide guidance on the appropriate type of POA, ensure that it meets legal requirements, and help outline the specific powers and limitations.

Revocation and Changes

Both General and Special POAs can be revoked or amended by the principal at any time, provided they are mentally competent. It is essential to keep the POA document up-to-date and ensure that any changes are legally documented and communicated to all relevant parties.

Practical Considerations

Trust and Reliability

Choosing the right agent is paramount. The agent should be someone trustworthy, reliable, and capable of acting in the principal’s best interests. It is advisable to have open and honest discussions with the prospective agent about the responsibilities and expectations involved.

Documentation and Records

Maintaining thorough documentation and records of the agent’s actions is crucial for accountability and transparency. This helps ensure that the agent acts within the scope of their authority and provides a record in case of any disputes or legal challenges.

Contingency Planning

It is wise to have contingency plans in place. This could include appointing a successor agent in case the primary agent is unable or unwilling to act. Additionally, principals should consider the potential need for a Durable Power of Attorney if there is a possibility of future incapacity.


Understanding the differences between a General and Special Power of Attorney is essential for anyone considering this legal arrangement. A General Power of Attorney offers broad authority for managing a wide range of affairs, making it suitable for those needing comprehensive assistance. In contrast, a special power of attorney provides limited authority for specific tasks or situations, making it ideal for targeted assistance.

Careful consideration, legal advice, and clear documentation are crucial in creating an effective Power of Attorney that meets the principal’s needs while ensuring their interests are protected. Whether opting for a General or Special Power of Attorney, the key is to make informed decisions that align with the principal’s unique circumstances and goals.

Avatar of DLS Solicitors by DLS Solicitors
17th May 2024
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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