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Trust is a key factor when choosing an agent for your power of attorney. Whether the agent selected is a friend, relative, organization, or lawyer, you need someone who will look out for your best interests, respect your wishes, and won’t abuse the powers granted to him or her.
It is important for an agent to keep accurate records of all transactions done on your behalf and to provide you with periodic updates to keep you informed. If you are unable to review updates yourself, direct your agent to give an account to a third party.
As for legal liability, an agent is held responsible only for intentional misconduct, not for unknowingly doing something wrong. This protection is included in power of attorney documents to encourage people to accept agent responsibilities. Agents are not customarily compensated; most do it for free.
Should you, a friend, or relative suspect wrongdoing on the part of your agent, report the suspected abuse to a law enforcement agency and consult a lawyer.
Can and Should you appoint more than one Agent?
While you can appoint multiple agents, decide whether these agents must act jointly or separately in making decisions. Multiple agents can ensure more sound decisions, acting as checks and balances against one another. The downside is that multiple agents can disagree and one person’s schedule can potentially delay important transactions or signings of legal documents.
If you appoint only one agent, have a backup. Agents can fall ill, be injured, or somehow be unable to serve when the time comes. A successor agent takes over power of attorney duties from the original agent, if needed.
Being of Sound Mind. . .
A power of attorney is valid only if you are mentally competent when you sign it and, in some cases, incompetent when it goes into effect. If you think your mental capability may be questioned, have a doctor verify it in writing. If your power of attorney doesn’t specify requirements for determining mental competency, your agent will still need a written doctor’s confirmation of your incompetence in order to do business on your behalf. A court may even be required to decide the competency issue in some circumstances.
Signing, Sealing, and Delivering a Power of Attorney
You must sign and notarize the original power of attorney document, and certify several copies. Banks and other businesses will not allow your agent to act on your behalf unless they receive a certified copy of the power of attorney.
Attorneys are unnecessary to execute a power of attorney. However, it may be wise to consult one for advice about the powers being granted, to provide counsel on your candidate agent, and to make sure your document meets all legal requirements.
Remember, you can revoke a power of attorney at any time. Simply notify your agent in writing and retreive all copies of your power of attorney. Notify any financial institutions, if applicable, that your agent’s power of attorney has been revoked.
Needing a power of attorney is almost as certain as death and taxes in everyone’s life. Illness, injury, old age, or daily life commitments happen to everyone. It is important to understand what a power of attorney is and how it can assist in taking care of business, even when you can’t.
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