DEFINITION of 'Actual Authority'

Specific powers, expressly conferred by a principal (often an insurance company) to an agent to act on the principal's behalf. This power may be broad, general power or it may be limited, special power.

Also known as "express authority."

BREAKING DOWN 'Actual Authority'

Actual authority arises where the principal's words or conduct rationally cause the agent to believe that he or she has been empowered to act. An agent receives actual authority either orally or in writing. Written authority is preferable, as it is somewhat difficult to establish authority that is given verbally. In a corporation, written express authority includes bylaws and resolutions from directors' meetings which grant the authorized person permission to carry out a definite act on behalf of the corporation.

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