How Your Florida Power of Attorney Works

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Just what is a Power of Attorney?

 A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that delegates authority from one person to another. As the maker of the Power of Attorney (the "principal"), you grant someone the right to act on your behalf. The type of authority granted must be specified in the POA document, and you may make it broad or limit it to specific actions.

Of course, someone might ask you to serve as his or her Power of Attorney for specific actions.

What are some reasons I might need a Power of Attorney?
You can use a Power of Attorney to give another the right to sell a car, home or other property for you. You might also allow someone to access bank accounts, sign a contract, make health care decisions, handle financial transactions or sign legal documents for you. A Power of Attorney may give others the right to do almost any legal act that you could do, including the ability to create trusts and make gifts. These are powerful documents, so use them with care. You may also be asked to serve as the Power of Attorney for a parent or other person−a responsibility to be undertaken with care.

Does a Power of Attorney document require witnesses or a notary?
If you are the principal, you must sign the Power of Attorney with two witnesses to your signature, and a notary must acknowledge your signature for the document to be properly executed and valid under Florida law. There are exceptions for military Powers of Attorney and for Powers of Attorney created under the laws of another state.

What is a "principal?"
The "principal" is the maker of the Power of Attorney− the person who is delegating authority and allowing someone else to act on his or her behalf.

What is an "agent?"
The "agent" is the recipient of the Power of Attorney−the party to whom you give the power to act on your behalf. The agent is sometimes referred to as an "attorney-in-fact" but does not mean the person is a lawyer.

What is a "third party?"
A "third party" is a person or institution with whom the agent has dealings on your behalf. Examples include a bank, a doctor, a buyer of property that the agent is selling for you, a broker, or anyone else with whom the agent must deal on your behalf.

What is a "Limited Power of Attorney?"
A "Limited Power of Attorney" gives the agent authority to conduct a specific act. For example, you might use a Limited Power of Attorney to sell a home in another state by delegating authority to another person to handle the transaction locally. This could be "limited" to selling the home or to other specific actions.

What is a "General Power of Attorney?"
A "General Power of Attorney" typically gives the agent very broad powers to perform any legal act on your behalf. You must include a specific list of the types of activities the agent is authorized to perform in the document.

 What is a "Durable Power of Attorney?"
A Power of Attorney ends if you, as the principal become incapacitated, unless it is a "Durable Power of Attorney," which remains effective if it is worded properly. Certain exceptions are specified in Florida law when a Durable Power of Attorney may not be used for an incapacitated principal. Most Powers of Attorney granted today are durable.

Must a person be competent to sign a Power of Attorney?
Yes. You, as the principal, must understand what you are signing at the time the document is signed. You must understand the effect of the document, to whom you are giving the authority and what property may be affected by the Power of Attorney.

Who may serve as an agent?
Any competent person 18 years of age or older may serve as an agent. Agents should be chosen for reliability and trustworthiness. Certain financial institutions with trust powers may also serve as agents.

 

POWERS AND DUTIES OF AGENT

 

What activities are permitted by an agent?
As an agent, you are limited to the actions specified in the Power of Attorney drawn for your situation.  If you are not sure, consult the lawyer who prepared the document.

May an agent sell my home?
Yes. If the Power of Attorney has been properly executed and includes this act, the agent may sell it. If you are married, the agent must obtain your spouse’s permission.

What may an agent NOT do (on behalf of a principal)?
There are a few actions that an agent is prohibited from doing even if the Power of Attorney states that the action is authorized. An agent may not:

  •  Practice law in Florida, unless also a licensed member of The Florida Bar.
  • Sign a document stating that you have knowledge of certain facts. For example, if you were a witness to a car accident, your POA may not sign an affidavit stating what you saw or heard.
  • Vote in a public election on your behalf.
  • Create or revoke your Will or any codicil.
  • Provide personal services that you were under contract to perform, such as paint a portrait or provide care services.
  • Take your place as trustee of a trust or court appointed guardian or conservator.

 

Is there a certain code of conduct for agents?
Yes. Agents must meet certain standards of care when performing their duties. An agent is looked upon as a "fiduciary" under the law, which is a relationship of trust. If the agent violates this trust, the law may punish the agent both civilly (by ordering the payment of restitution and punishment money) and criminally (probation or jail). The standards of care that apply to agents are discussed under Financial Management and the Liability of an Agent.

 

USING THE POWER OF ATTORNEY

 

When is a Power of Attorney effective?
The Power of Attorney is effective as soon as you sign it.  However, a Durable Power of Attorney executed before Oct. 1, 2011 that is contingent on your incapacity (sometimes called a “springing” power), remains valid but is not effective until your physician certifies that you are incapacitated.  Springing Powers of Attorney have been disallowed since Sept. 30, 2011.

Must I deliver the Power of Attorney to the agent right after signing or may I wait until the services are needed?
You may hold the Power of Attorney document until you need help and then give it to the agent.  Often, the lawyer may hold it for you. 

How does the agent initiate decision-making authority under the Power of Attorney?
Using the example in the previous question, Eve should review the Power of Attorney document carefully to determine what authority Adam gave her.  After being certain that she has the authority to act, Eve should take the document to the third party (the bank, other institution, or person with whom she needs to deal). Some third parties may ask Eve to sign an affidavit stating that she is acting properly. (Eve may wish to consult with a lawyer prior to signing.) The third party should accept the Power of Attorney and allow Eve to act for Adam. Eve should always make it clear that she is signing documents on Adam’s behalf.

 

RELATIONSHIP OF POWER OF ATTORNEY TO OTHER LEGAL INSTRUMENTS

 

What is the difference between an agent and an executor or personal representative?
An executor, termed a "personal representative" in Florida, is the person named in your Will to take care of your probate estate after you die. An agent may only take care of your affairs while you are alive.

What if the principal has a "guardian" appointed by the court?
A guardian may be appointed by the court if you no longer can care for yourself or your property, if a less restrictive alternative is not available. If your agent discovers that a guardian has been appointed prior to the date you signed the Power of Attorney, the agent should advise his or her lawyer.

Will a Power of Attorney prevent the need for guardianship?
Yes. If you executed a valid Durable Power of Attorney prior to becoming incapacitated, the court may not need to appoint a guardian. If your agent has all necessary powers, guardianship may be averted by showing that a Durable Power of Attorney exists and that it is appropriate for your agent to act on your behalf.

 

HEALTH CARE AND THE POWER OF ATTORNEY

 What is the relationship between a Declaration of Living Will and Power of Attorney?
A declaration of living will specifies your wishes about receiving or ending medical procedures should you be diagnosed with a terminal condition, have an end-stage condition, or are in a persistent vegetative state. A living will and a health care surrogate designation are called "health care advance directives" because they are made in advance of incapacity and need. If you are unable to understand or communicate with a doctor, a living will is a legally enforceable method of making sure your wishes are honored. Even if you have a living will, your agent may make health care decisions if the Durable Power of Attorney specifically gives this right.

What is a Health Care Surrogate Designation and how does it differ from a Power of Attorney?
A Health Care Surrogate Designation is a document in which you designate someone else to make health care decisions if you are unable to do so. Unlike a Power of Attorney, a health care surrogate decision-maker cannot act until the attending physician has determined you lack the capacity to make informed health care decisions. Many medical providers prefer a designation of health care surrogate for health care decisions because the document is limited to health care. However, a Durable Power of Attorney specifically for health care may enable the agent to assist you in health care decisions even though you may not completely lack capacity.

 

TERMINATION OF THE POWER OF ATTORNEY

 

When does a Power of Attorney terminate?
The authority of your agent under a Power of Attorney automatically ends when one of the following things happens: (1) you die, (2) you revoke the Power of Attorney, (3) a court determines that you are totally or partially incapacitated and do not specify that the Power of Attorney is to remain in force, (4) the purpose of the Power of Attorney is completed, or (5) the term of the Power of Attorney expires. If, after having knowledge of any of these events, a person continues to act as agent, he or she is acting without authority.

When does a particular agent's authority terminate?
The authority of an agent under a Power of Attorney automatically ends when one of the following things happens: (1) the agent dies, (2) the agent resigns or is removed by a court, (3) the agent becomes incapacitated, or (4) the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage if the agent is the principal's spouse, unless the Power of Attorney provides otherwise.

How do I revoke a Power of Attorney?
Your revocation must be in writing and may be done by a subsequent Power of Attorney. The agent and any other party who might rely on the POA must receive notice, by any form of mail that requires a signed receipt or by certain approved methods of personal delivery. Special rules exist for serving notice of revocation on banks and other financial institutions. Consult with your lawyer about proper procedures.

Court proceedings were filed to appoint a guardian for the principal or to determine whether the principal is incapacitated. How does this affect the Power of Attorney?
In this situation, the Power of Attorney is automatically suspended and an agent must not continue to act. The power to make health care decisions, however, is not suspended unless the court specifically makes that decision.

 

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT AND THE LIABILITY OF AN AGENT

 What is "fiduciary responsibility?"
An agent is a fiduciary, and has duties and responsibilities when standing in for someone. For example, if the agent assumes responsibility for the principal's investments, the agent has a duty to invest and manage the assets of the principal as a prudent investor. This standard requires the agent to exercise reasonable care and caution in managing the assets of the principal. The agent is required to keep careful records and may be required to provide an accounting. Everything the agent does for the principal should be written down, and the agent should keep all receipts and copies of all correspondence. It is a good practice to log phone calls so that if there is ever a question, records are available. Agents should consult with lawyers to be sure they understand the duties applicable.