What are the Duties that Come With Power of Attorney

June 15, 2017 / 8:00 pm

Taking on a power of attorney role for a loved one—often, this loved one will be an older family member, likely with failing health or mental faculties—is an enormous responsibility.

The first step is assuring that you execute this responsibility properly, and in the best interest of everyone involved. To successfully accomplish that, you’ll need to understand exactly which duties and responsibilities are involved with a power of attorney role.

But first, here’s a brief primer on what, exactly, a power of attorney is, along with some of the related legal jargon you’ll want to understand.

  • The Jargon: A power of attorney is a legal document, so referring to yourself as the power of attorney for someone is incorrect. Instead, someone who has legal authority to act on behalf on someone else is known as an agent. The person who gave that authority—your parent or grandparent, perhaps—is known as the principal.
  • The Two Types: There are actually two different and separate types of powers of attorney. One of those two types is medical. It gives legal authority to the agent to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the principal. The other type, financial, gives the agent the authority to make—you guessed it!—financial decisions for the principal.

What Duties Will You Have?

The truth is that it depends—every power of attorney situation is a little bit different. That’s because when a principal chooses an agent, he or she will next need to complete a legal power of attorney document that spells out all the various details and specifics. If there are any limits to the power the agent is being given, they’ll be mentioned in this document. The document may even include what’s known as a termination date, which is the date the agent’s power to act on behalf of the principal ends.

This same document will also spell out what the agent’s specific duties and responsibilities toward the principal are meant to be. A financial power of attorney document will list which forms and documents the agent has the authority to sign. It may give the agent authority to access the principal’s bank accounts. It could give the agent authority to sign various documents related to the sale of a home or land owned by the principal.

As for a medical power of attorney document, for the most part it will give the agent the very serious responsibility of making certain medical decisions for the principal. For instance, should the machines be turned off and the principal’s life terminated at a certain point? Should certain procedures be performed on the principal in an effort to extend the principal’s life, even if the principal will likely never awake from a coma?

In Pennsylvania, an Agent’s Ethical Responsibilities Are a Matter of Law

Interestingly enough, Pennsylvania’s power of attorney law includes four ethically-themed duties by which the agent is legally required to abide. They are:

  1. Exercise the powers for the benefit of the principal;
  2. Keep the assets of the principal separate from your own;
  3. Exercise reasonable caution and prudence;
  4. Keep a full and accurate record of all actions you take on behalf of the principal including income and assets you receive and disbursements you make.

As an agent acting as power of attorney for financial matters in Pennsylvania, you will also be required to sign a document stating that you agree to follow and abide by those four items. (You won’t need to sign the form if your powers of attorney are limited to health matters.) Frankly, we’re fans of this somewhat unusual rule. It assures, more or less, that the agent signing the form is reminded, one last time, just how enormous the responsibility is that they’re about to assume.

Create an Advisory Team

We’d like to share one final word of advice for potential future agents, who will be making difficult decisions indeed regarding the health or financial care of someone close to them: Consider creating an advisory team.

An advisory team is a group of likeminded individuals—friends or family members, perhaps—who can act as a sounding board when you’re having considerable trouble making a particularly tough decision. And because many heads are often better than one, your advisory team may also be able to share various ideas and resources with you that you weren’t previously aware of.

How to Create a Power of Attorney Document

Located in Doylestown, Bucks County, the estate attorneys of Penglase & Benson can help you with any issues or needs you may have regarding a power of attorney situation. Whether you need to have a very specific financial power of attorney document drawn up, or simply need advice, our firm’s expert estate planning attorneys in Doylestown are here for you. Contact us today to request an appointment.