A power of attorney (POA) document authorizes a person to act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business matters or any other legal matter specified in the document. The “principal” is the person who authorized someone else to act on their behalf. The “agent” is the person who is given the power to act on behalf of the principal. The principal should select an agent who they trust to handle their financial affairs.
An agent has a responsibility to follow the provisions of the POA, act in good faith and in the best interests of the principal. If it is a limited power of attorney document, the agent may only perform the specific task outlined. The authority granted to an agent in a general power of attorney may be very broad and authorize various estate planning alternatives, other than the creation of a will. The agent should consult a lawyer before agreeing to act as an agent and proceeding under the POA.
Even if the POA document authorizes an action, the state of Florida prohibits an agent from performing certain duties, including:
- Practicing law in Florida, unless a licensed member of The Florida Bar
- Signing a document stating that a principal has knowledge of certain facts
- Voting in a public election on behalf of the principal
- Creating a will on behalf of the principal
- Performing a personal service that the principal was contracting for
- Acting as a trustee, guardian or conservator in place of the principal
If an agent has concerns as to the authority granted in the POA, the agent is not obligated to act as the agent or can agree to act only as to limited aspects of the POA. However, once the agent assumes a responsibility, it is their duty to act sensibly and in accordance to the wishes of the principal and POA.
An agent is only responsible for handling the principal’s affairs while the principal is alive. If a principal becomes incapacitated, a POA is terminated, unless it is a durable power of attorney. In Florida, a durable power of attorney must contain specific wording that states that the agent retains power in the event of the principal’s incapacitation. The document must specify the tasks that the agent is allowed to perform. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the principal.
These are powerful documents and should be taken seriously. An experienced attorney can help you understand the responsibilities of a power of attorney form in Florida.