The question of how long a power of attorney lasts has two different answers–a legal one and a practical one. First, the legal answer is however long you set it up to last. If you set a date for a power of attorney to lapse, then it will last until that date. If you create a general power of attorney and set no date for which it will expire, it will last until you die or become incapacitated.
You can get around the problem of having it lapse upon incapacitation by creating a durable power of attorney. The durable power of attorney, or health care power of attorney, is considered effective even if you become incapacitated. Usually, a durable power of attorney is set up to kick in only if you become incapacitated. This allows someone to manage your affairs while you can’t. If you don’t have a durable power of attorney in place when you become incapacitated, then your family will have to go to the court and get you placed in conservatorship so that they can manage your affairs. Conservatorships are a big mess and should be avoided. Basically, your family is going to have to get the court’s permission every time they want to do something.
Now for the practical answer. When you are given a power of attorney and you are going to try to take it to the bank and say you have been given control over the account, the bank is going to look at the paper and look at the date it was signed. If the document is several years old, the bank is going to tell you to go and get a new power of attorney before they let you into the account. The bank is worried that an old power of attorney may have been revoked and is no longer valid. They don’t want to take the risk of giving you access to the account if they are not sure if you should have access.
If you are taking a durable power of attorney that is several years old to the bank because the person who gave you the durable power of attorney has become incapacitated, then you may be out of luck. The bank is going to be wary of the old document and may tell you to get a new durable power of attorney. But you can’t get a new one because the person who gave you the durable power of attorney can’t make another due to their incapacitation.
This is why it is important that you review and sign a new power of attorney every few years. There is no set rule of how often you should resign one, but if you want to make sure you are safe, every 3 years would be prudent.
You don’t have to go to a lawyer to draft you a new one every time. If you don’t have any changes that need to be made, just copy the language of the old one into a new document, and sign it with witnesses and a notary.