Duties & Limitations of a Power of Attorney

POAs allow other people to conduct business on your behalf.

POAs allow other people to conduct business on your behalf.

You don't have to go to law school to get a power of attorney. A POA is a legal document appointing a third person, an agent, to do business for you - the principal. The law requires an agent to act always in his principal's best interests and abide by the terms of the POA.

Duties

Your agent has got your back. He owes you a fiduciary duty, meaning he must act loyally and honestly on your behalf. For example, if your agent is handling your house sale, he can't give his buddy a sweet, insider deal on the price. He must also get your nod of approval before doing any deal that may lead to a conflict of interest. For example, if he wants to hire his attorney wife to represent your business affairs, he must get your permission first.

Terms

Your agent can't run wild with her POA powers. She is legally limited to the specific authorities her principal gives to her. For example, if you make a POA for the purpose of selling your house, your agent can't use it to close your bank accounts. Even when a POA grants broad power to conduct financial tasks, such as "any and all banking" an agent must carefully follow its terms to ensure she is acting within her powers.

General Limitations

Generally, state law won't allow a POA to change or cancel a will. An agent also can't pressure a disabled person into doing something he wouldn't be likely to do if he was healthy. Some states allow agents to give gifts from a principal's estate, but the POA must specifically state this power. All POAs terminate when the principal dies. You should check your state law for the statutory limitations that affect your POA.

Penalties

POA agents aren't above the law. A rogue agent can be sued, and a judge can order him to return money or property he wrongfully takes under a POA. Police can even get into the mix if the POA intentionally abuses his power. If convicted, he can face jail time and fines. A competent principal has the right to revoke a POA at any time, and should immediately do so if he suspects his agent is acting against his best interests.

 

About the Author

Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.

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