Durable Power Of Attorney
This material represents general legal advice. Since the Florida law related to powers of attorney is continually changing, it is always best to consult with an experienced attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case. If you need assistance, please call (904) 688-3324 or toll-free at (866) 510-9099, or email us.
1. What is a Power of Attorney?
A Florida Power of Attorney is a legal document delegating authority from one person to another, for the other to act on his or her behalf with regard to matters other than health care. In the document, the maker of the Power of Attorney grants the right to act on the maker’s behalf. What authority is granted depends on the specific language of the Power of Attorney or durable power of attorney. A person giving a Power of Attorney may make it very broad or may limit it to certain specific acts that are described in the Florida power of attorney document.
2. What are some uses of a Power of Attorney under Florida law?
A Florida Power of Attorney may be used to give another person the legal right and authority to sell a car, home or any other property. A Power of Attorney might be used to allow another person to sign a contract, make health care decisions, handle financial transactions or sign legal documents on behalf of the maker of the Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney in Florida may give others the right to do almost any legal act that the maker of the Power of Attorney could do. If you need a Florida attorney to assist you obtain a proper durable power of attorney, please call your Jacksonville Power of Attorney Lawyer at (904) 688-3324 or toll-free at (866) 510-9099.
3. Where may a person obtain a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney, and especially a durable power of attorney, is an important and powerful legal document in Florida as it is authority for someone to act in someone else’s legal capacity. It should be drawn by an experienced estate planning lawyer to meet the person’s specific circumstances and needs. Pre-printed durable power of attorney legal forms often may fail to provide the protection desired. A Florida power of attorney must include specific powers in the power of attorney form if there may become a need to apply for or qualify the principal for government benefit programs, such as Medicaid.
4. What is a Principal?
The “principal” is the maker of the Power of Attorney – the person who is delegating authority to another person to act on his or her behalf.
5. What is an Agent?
The “agent” is the recipient of the Power of Attorney – the party who has the power to act on behalf of the principal. An “agent” is sometimes referred to as an “attorney in fact,” but not all “agents” are “attorneys-in-fact.” The term “attorney-in-fact” does not mean the person is a lawyer.
6. What is a Third Party?
As used in this article, a “third party” is a person or institution with whom the agent has dealings on behalf of the principal. Examples include a bank, a doctor, the buyer of property that the agent is selling for the principal, a broker or anyone else with whom the agent must deal on behalf of the principal.
7. What is a Limited Power of Attorney?
A “Limited Power of Attorney” gives the agent authority to conduct a specific act. For example, a person 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 through a “limited power of attorney.” Such a Power could be “limited” to selling the home or to other specified acts. If you need the assistance of a Jacksonville, Florida, attorney to obtain a limited power of attorney, please contact us at (904) 688-3324 or toll-free at (866) 510-9099.
8. 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 behalf of the principal, subject only to the limitations specifically provided in the power of attorney legal document, if any. Often a list of the types of activities the agent is authorized to perform is included in the power of attorney document.
9. What is a Durable Power of Attorney?
Limited and general Powers of Attorney terminate if and when the principal becomes incapacitated. Because many people desire a Power of Attorney that may continue to be used upon their incapacity, Florida law provides for a (special) power of attorney known as a “Durable Power of Attorney.” A Durable Power of Attorney remains effective even if a person becomes incapacitated; however, there are certain exceptions specified in Florida law when a Durable Power of Attorney may not be used for an incapacitated principal. A Durable Power of Attorney form must contain special wording that provides the durable power of attorney survives the incapacity of the principal. Most Powers of Attorney granted today are durable powers of attorney. Consulting an experienced Florida estate planning lawyer or an elder law attorney can assist you with understanding the scope and effect of a durable power of attorney under Florida law, and will help ensure your Florida durable power of attorney contains the proper language to accomplish the desired result. We can assist you with your durable power of attorney needs if you will call us at (904) 688-3324 or toll-free at (866) 510-9099.
10. Must a person be competent to sign a Power of Attorney?
Yes. The principal must understand what he or she is signing at the time the legal document is signed. The principal must understand the effect of the Power of Attorney, including a durable power of attorney, to whom he or she is giving the Power of Attorney, and what assets or other property rights maybe affected by the Florida Power of Attorney.
11. Who may serve as an agent?
Any competent person 18 years of age or older may serve as an agent in a durable power of attorney. Agents should be chosen for reliability and trustworthiness. An agent does not have to be a family member or relative. Certain financial institutions and not-for-profit corporations may also serve as durable power of attorney in Florida.
12. What happens if the Power of Attorney was created under the laws of another state?
If the Power of Attorney or Durable Power of Attorney was properly executed under the other state’s laws, then it may be used in Florida, but its use will be subject to Florida’s Power of Attorney Act and other state laws. The agent may only act as authorized by Florida law and the terms of the Power of Attorney. There are additional requirements for real estate transactions in Florida and if the durable Power of Attorney does not comply with those requirements its use may be limited to banking and other nonreal estate transactions. The third person may also request an opinion of counsel that the Power of Attorney, or Durable Power of Attorney, was properly executed in accordance with the laws of the other state. This material represents general legal advice. Since the Florida law related to powers of attorney is continually changing, it is always best to consult an experienced estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case. If you need the assistance of a Florida lawyer regarding a durable power of attorney, please contact your Jacksonville lawyer for durable power of attorney at 448-1969, toll-free at (866) 510-9099, or email us at [email protected].
13. What activities are permitted by an agent?
An agent may perform only those acts specified in the Power of Attorney, or durable power of attorney and any acts reasonably necessary to give effect to the specified acts. If an agent is unsure whether he or she is authorized to do a particular act, the agent should consult with the lawyer who prepared the legal document, or his or her own legal counsel. Two types of acts may be incorporated by a simple reference to the statutes in the Power of Attorney or durable power of attorney – the “authority to conduct banking transactions as provided in section 709.2208(1), Florida Statutes” and the “authority to conduct investment transactions as provided in section 709.08(2), Florida Statutes.” When either of these phrases is included in the Florida Power of Attorney, all the acts authorized by the referenced statute maybe performed by the agent even though the specific acts are not listed in the Power of Attorney itself.
14. May an agent sell the principal’s home?
Yes. If the Florida Power of Attorney authorizes the sale of the principal’s homestead, the agent may sell it. If the principal is married, and the property is homestead, the agent must obtain the authorization of the principal’s spouse.
15. 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 Florida Power of Attorney states that the action is authorized. An agent, unless also a licensed member of The Florida Bar, may not practice law in Florida. An agent may not sign a document, or affidavit, stating that the principal has personal knowledge of certain facts. For example, if the principal was a witness to a car accident, the agent may not sign an affidavit stating what the principal saw or heard. An agent may not vote in a public election on behalf of the principal. An attorney-in-fact may not create or revoke a Will or Codicil for the principal. If the principal was under contract to perform a personal service (i.e., to paint a portrait or provide care services), the agent is not authorized to do these things in the place of the principal. Likewise, if someone had appointed the principal to be Trustee of a Trust or if the Court appointed the principal to be a guardian or conservator, the agent may not take over these responsibilities based solely on the authority of the Durable Power of Attorney.
16. What are the responsibilities of an agent?
While the Power of Attorney gives the agent authority to act on behalf of the principal, an agent is not obligated to serve. An attorney-in-fact may have a moral or any other obligation to take on the responsibilities associated with the Florida durable Power of Attorney, but the Power of Attorney does not create an obligation under Florida law to assume the duties. However, once an attorney-in-fact takes on a responsibility, he or she has a fiduciary duty to act prudently and in the best interest of the principal. (See Financial Management and the Liability of an Agent).
17. Is there a certain code of conduct for agent?
Yes. Agents must meet certain standards of care when performing their duties. An agent of a durable power of attorney is looked upon as a “fiduciary” under Florida law. A fiduciary relationship is one of high trust. If the agent violates this trust, Florida law may punish the attorney-in-fact both civilly (by ordering the payment of restitution and punishment money) and criminally (probation or jail). The standard of care that applies to agents under a Florida durable power of attorney is discussed under Financial Management and the Liability of an Agent.
18. When is a Durable Power of Attorney effective?
The Florida Durable Power of Attorney is effective as soon as the principal signs it. However, a Florida Durable Power of Attorney executed prior to October 1, 2011, that is contingent on the incapacity of the principal (sometimes called a “springing” power), remains valid but is not effective until the principal’s incapacity has been certified by a physician. Springing Powers of Attorney may not be legally created in Florida after September 30, 2011.
19. Must the principal deliver the Power of Attorney to the agent right after signing or may the principal wait until such time as the services of the agent are needed?
The principal may hold the Power of Attorney document or durable power of attorney form until such time as help is needed and then give it to the agent. Because third parties will not honor the attorney-in-fact’s authority unless the attorney-in-fact provides the durable Power of Attorney document, the use of the Power of Attorney may effectively be delayed. Often, the Florida estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney may fulfill this important role. For example, the principal may leave the Power of Attorney with the lawyer who prepared it, asking the lawyer to deliver it to the agent under certain specific conditions. Because the estate planning lawyer may not know if and when the principal is incapacitated, the principal should let the agent know that the lawyer has retained the signed document and will deliver it as directed. If the principal does not want the agent to be able to use the Power of Attorney until it is delivered, the durable Power of Attorney should clearly require the agent to possess the original because copies of signed Powers of Attorney are sufficient for acceptance by third parties.
20. How does the agent initiate decision-making authority under the Power of Attorney?
The agent should review the durable Power of Attorney legal document carefully to determine what authority the principal granted. After being certain that the Power of Attorney gives the agent the authority to act, the durable Power of Attorney (or a copy) should be taken to the third party (the bank or any other institution, or person with whom you need to deal). Some third parties may ask the agent to sign a document stating that the agent is acting properly. (The agent may wish to consult with an estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney prior to signing such a legal document.) The third party should accept the Power of Attorney and allow the agent to act for the principal. An agent should always make it clear on the document that the agent is signing documents on behalf of the principal pursuant to the Florida durable power of attorney.
21. How should the agent sign when acting as an agent?
The agent will always want to add after his or her signature that the document is being signed “as agent for” the Principal. If the agent only signs his or her own name, he or she maybe held personally accountable for whatever was signed. As long as the signature clearly conveys that the document is being signed in a representative capacity and not personally, the agent is protected. Though lengthy, it is, therefore, best to sign as follows: Howard Rourk, as agent for Ellsworth Toohey. In this example, Howard Rourk is the agent, and Ellsworth Toohey is the principal of the durable power of attorney.
22. What if the third party will not accept the Power of Attorney?
If the durable Power of Attorney was lawfully executed and it has not been revoked, suspended or terminated, third parties may be forced to honor the legal document. The third party is required to give the agent a written explanation of why they are refusing to accept the Power of Attorney within a reasonable time after it is presented to the third party. Under some circumstances, if the third party’s refusal to honor the Durable Power of Attorney causes damage, the third party may be liable for those damages and even attorney’s fees and court costs. Even mere delay may cause damage and this too may be actionable. It is reasonable, however, for the third party to have the time to consult with an experienced estate planning or elder law lawyer or an internal legal department about the Power of Attorney. Delay for more than a short period may be unreasonable. Upon refusal or unreasonable delay, consult a Florida estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney. You can call us for assistance at (904) 688-3324 or toll-free at (866) 510-9099.
23. Why do third parties sometimes refuse Powers of Attorney?
Third parties are often concerned whether the durable power of attorney document is valid. They do not know if it was executed properly or forged. They do not know if it has been revoked. They do not know if the principal was competent at the time the durable Power of Attorney was signed. They do not know whether the principal has died. Third parties do not want liability for the improper use of the Power of Attorney document. Some third parties refuse to honor Powers of Attorney because they believe they are protecting the principal from possible unscrupulous conduct. If your durable Power of Attorney is refused, talk to your Florida estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney.
24. What if a third party requires the agent to sign an affidavit prior to honoring the Power of Attorney?
A third party is authorized by Florida law to require the agent of the Power of Attorney to sign an affidavit (a sworn or an affirmed written statement), stating that he or she is validly exercising the authority under the durable Power of Attorney. If the agent wants to use the Durable Power of Attorney, the agent may need to sign the affidavit if so requested by the third party. The purpose of the affidavit is to relieve the third party of liability for accepting an invalid Durable Power of Attorney. As long as the statements in the affidavit are true at that time, the agent may sign it. The agent may wish to consult with an estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney prior to signing it. (You may find a sample Affidavit of Attorney-in-fact at the bottom of this page.)
25. What else may the third party require?
A third party may also make a reasonable request for an opinion of counsel as to any legal matter concerning the Power of Attorney, including its proper execution under the laws of another state. A third party may request a certified English translation if any part of the Power of Attorney is in a language other than English.
26. May the agent employ others to assist him or her?
Yes. The attorney-in-fact may hire accountants, lawyers, brokers or other professionals to help with the agent’s duties under the durable power of attorney, but may never delegate his or her responsibility as agent. The Power of Attorney was given by the principal and the agent does not have the right to transfer that power to anyone else.
27. What is the difference between an agent and an executor or personal representative?
An executor, termed a “personal representative” in Florida, is the person who takes care of another’s estate after that person dies. An agent may only take care of the principal’s affairs under the durable power of attorney while the principal is alive. A personal representative may be named in a person’s Will and is appointed by the court to administer the estate.
28. What is the difference between a ‘trustee’ and an ‘agent’?
Like a power of attorney, a trust may authorize an individual to act for the maker of the trust during the maker’s lifetime. Like the agent in a durable power of attorney, the trustee may manage the financial affairs of the maker of the trust. A trustee only has power over an asset that is owned by the trust. In contrast, an agent under a valid durable power of attorney may have authority over all the principal’s assets (except trust assets). Another important distinction is that a trustee may continue acting for the maker of the trust after the maker of the trust dies. In contrast, the Power of Attorney, including a durable power of attorney, expires upon the death of the principal. Whether a trust or a Power of Attorney is the most appropriate tool for a specific situation is a question that should be addressed with your estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney.
29. What if the principal has a ‘guardian’ appointed by the court?
If no less restrictive appropriate alternative is available, then a guardian maybe appointed by the probate court for a person who no longer can care for his or her person or property. A person who has a Florida guardian appointed by the probate court may not be able to lawfully execute a Power of Attorney. If an agent discovers that a Florida guardian has been appointed prior to the date the principal signed the durable Power of Attorney, the agent should advise his or her Florida estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney. If a guardianship court proceeding is begun after the Durable Power of Attorney was signed by the principal, the authority of the agent is automatically suspended until the petition is dismissed, withdrawn or otherwise acted upon. The law requires that an agent receives notice of the Florida guardianship proceeding. If a Florida guardian is appointed, the durable Power of Attorney is no longer effective unless the court allows certain powers to continue. The power to make health care decisions, however, is not suspended unless the probate court specifically suspends this power. If the agent learns that Florida guardianship or incapacity proceedings have been initiated, he or she should consult with a Florida guardianship attorney, estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney.
30. May a Power of Attorney avoid the need for guardianship?
Yes. If the alleged incapacitated person executed a valid Durable Power of Attorney prior to his or her incapacity, it may not be necessary for the probate court to appoint a Florida guardian since the agent already has the authority to act for the principal. As long as the agent has all necessary powers, it may not be necessary to file Florida guardianship proceedings and, even when filed, guardianship maybe averted by showing the probate court that a Durable Power of Attorney exists and that it is appropriate to allow the agent to act on the principal’s behalf. If you need the assistance of a Florida estate planning attorney to avoid a guardianship by establishing a power of attorney, please contact us at (904) 688-3324 or call us toll-free at (866) 510-9099.
31. What is the relationship between a Declaration of Living Will and Power of Attorney?
A declaration of living will specifies a person’s wishes as to the provision or termination of medical procedures when the person is diagnosed with a terminal condition, has an end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state. A living will and a health care surrogate designation are termed “health care advance directives” because they are made in advance of incapacity and need. If a person is unable to understand or unable to communicate with a doctor, a living will is a legally enforceable method of making sure the person’s wishes are honored. Whether or not a person has a living will, a person’s agent may make health care decisions if the Durable Power of Attorney specifically gives this right.
32. 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 the principal designates someone else to make health care decisions if the principal is unable to make those decisions. Unlike a durable Power of Attorney, a health care surrogate decision-maker has no authority to act until such time as the attending physician has determined the principal lacks the capacity to make informed health care decisions. (In instances where the attending physician has a question as to whether the principal lacks capacity, a second physician must agree with the attending physician’s conclusion that the principal lacks the capacity to make medical decisions before a surrogate decision-maker’s authority is commenced.) 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 the principal in health care decisions even though the principal may not completely lack capacity. A Florida estate planning lawyer or elder law attorney can assist you with the preparation of a properly designed designation of health care surrogate.
33. When does a Durable Power of Attorney terminate?
The authority of any agent under a Durable Power of Attorney automatically ends when one of the following things happens: (1) the principal dies; (2) the principal revokes the Power of Attorney, (3) when a court determines that the principal is totally or partially incapacitated and does not specifically provide that the durable Power of Attorney is to remain in force, (4) the purpose of the durable Power of Attorney is completed, or (5) the term of the durable Power of Attorney expires. In any of these instances, the Durable Power of Attorney is terminated. If, after having knowledge of any of these events, a person continues to act as attorney-in-fact, he or she is acting without authority.
34. 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 the 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.
35. What is the procedure under Florida law for a principal to revoke a Power of Attorney?
The revocation must be in writing and maybe done by a subsequent Power of Attorney or durable power of attorney. Written notice should be served on the agent and any other party who might rely on the power of attorney. The notice should be served either 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 Florida estate planning lawyer to be sure proper procedures are followed under Florida law when it is necessary or desirable to revoke a durable power of attorney.
36. 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?
If a court proceeding to determine the principal’s incapacity has been filed or if someone is seeking to have the court appoint a guardian for the principal, the Durable Power of Attorney is automatically suspended and an agent must not continue to act until there has been a determination by the probate court of whether the agent will retain any powers to act. The power to make health care decisions, however, is not suspended unless the court specifically suspends this power.
37. Authority as agent has been suspended because guardianship proceedings are pending for the principal. Now there is an emergency but there is no guardian who has been appointed. What now?
The agent may ask the court for special permission to take care of the emergency even though the Power of Attorney remains otherwise suspended. Contact your Florida estate planning or guardianship lawyer at (904) 688-3324, toll-free at (866) 510-9099, or email us at [email protected].
38. What is ‘fiduciary responsibility’?
An agent under a power of attorney or durable power of attorney is a fiduciary and as such has multiple duties when acting on behalf of the principal. These include an overriding duty to do only those acts authorized by the Power of Attorney, and when performing those acts to act in accordance with the principal’s reasonable expectations, to act in the principal’s best interest, and to attempt to preserve the principal’s estate plan. The preservation of the estate plan is dependent on a number of factors, including the agent’s knowledge of the plan and the needs and desires of the principal. If the agent under the durable power of attorney 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 must apply this standard to the overall investments and not to one specific asset. If an agent possesses special financial skills or expertise, he or she has an obligation to use those skills. The agent is required to keep careful records. Everything the attorney-in-fact does for the principal should be written down, and the agent should keep all receipts and copies of all correspondence, and consider logging phone calls so if the agent is questioned, records are available. Agents should consult with their lawyers to be sure they understand all the duties applicable to them. (Back to Top of Page) Florida Statutes: Chapter 709 of the Florida Statutes contains the full Florida statutory law on Powers of Attorney. Chapter 744 deals with Florida guardianship law. Chapter 518 deals with investment of fiduciary funds and applies to the attorney in fact in the exercise of his or her “fiduciary duty.”
AFFIDAVIT OF ATTORNEY-IN-FACT
AFFIDAVIT OF ATTORNEY-IN-FACT STATE OF FLORIDA COUNTY OF _____________ Before me, the undersigned authority, personally appeared ______________________ (“Affiant”), who swore or affirmed that: 1. Affiant is the attorney-in-fact named in the Durable Power of Attorney executed by __________________ (“Principal”) on ____________________________. 2. This Durable Power of Attorney is currently exercisable by Affiant. The principal is domiciled in _______________________. 3. To the best of the Affiant’s knowledge after diligent search and inquiry: a. The Principal is not deceased; and b. There has been no revocation, partial or complete termination by adjudication of incapacity or by the occurrence of an event referenced in the durable power attorney, or suspension by initiation of proceedings to determine incapacity or to appoint a guardian. 4. Affiant agrees not to exercise any powers granted by the Durable Power of Attorney if Affiant attains knowledge that it has been revoked, partially or completely terminated, suspended, or is no longer valid because of the death or adjudication of incapacity of the Principal. _________________________ Affiant/Attorney-in-fact Sworn to (or affirmed) and subscribed before me this _____ day of _____________ by Affiant who is personally known to me or who produced _________________________ as identification. ___________________________ Notary Public SEAL This affidavit was prepared pursuant to Section 709.08(4), Florida Statutes (2011).
This material represents general legal advice. Since the Florida law related to powers of attorney is continually changing, it is always best to consult an experienced attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case. If you need assistance, please call (904) 688-3324 or toll-free at (866) 510-9099, or email us.