Chances are that if you've heard of a power of attorney, one of two things is true: either you received one from someone else so you could help them, or you were advised to make one yourself. If you haven't heard of a power of attorney, don't worry. It has a simple but very important job, and it is important for everyone involved to understand the purpose of the document before signing one.
When you sign a power of attorney, you are giving another person the power to do all kinds of legal and financial business on your behalf. This can include things like opening and closing bank accounts, buying and selling real estate, and even obtaining care for your minor child while you are traveling or undergoing medical care. A power of attorney usually gives someone the power to act for you if you become incapacitated or unable to manage your own financial affairs. This is why it is particularly important for people to include a power of attorney as they plan for getting older. With a power of attorney, your spouse or other trusted family member can continue to pay bills and handle your personal business even if you are too ill to act.
Keep in mind that the power of attorney document can allow the person you appoint access to any and all of your accounts and property. This means that you should give a power of attorney only to someone you really trust, as a person could use the power of attorney to steal your property or even your identity. Still, in spite of this risk, it is usually better to have a trusted person available to help than to be forced into a court action if you become unable to manage your financial affairs.