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power of attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone you choose the power to act in your place. Stock photo

By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: My elderly aunt, Mary, has no spouse or children and is getting to the point where her health is failing and she is forgetting to pay her bills. Mary has a will and a health care proxy, but she has not appointed anyone to handle her financial affairs or assets. 

THE QUESTION: What do you suggest?

THE ANSWER: Mary should make an appointment with an experienced estate planning/elder law attorney to discuss the benefits of having a power of attorney prepared. 

HOW IT WORKS: A power of attorney is a legal document whereby a person can delegate to another person authority to carry out specific types of transactions on their behalf.

The person who delegates authority under a power of attorney is the principal. The people to whom authority is delegated are called agents. A principal can name a single agent or co-agents. When a single agent is named, it is important to name a successor agent in case the person who is named as the sole agent is unable to serve. If co-agents are named, the principal must decide whether the agents must act together or may act alone. 

The New York State Legislature created a basic power of attorney form that was most recently revised in 2010. This statutory form allows the principal to delegate authority to carry out banking transactions, sell real and personal property, deal with insurance carriers and address health care billing and payment matters, among other things. 

Although the basic power of attorney may be sufficient for some people, due to her age and her situation, Mary should sign what I refer to as an enhanced power of attorney. An enhanced power of attorney allows people to delegate authority to another person to perform transactions that are not covered in a basic power of attorney and that may be needed in the context of estate and Medicaid planning. 

These transactions include, but are not limited to, creating and/or revoking trusts, changing beneficiaries on accounts, life insurance policies and pension plans, accessing online accounts, entering into care giver agreements, borrowing money, making loans, making arrangements for pet care, waiving attorney/client privilege and signing intent to return home letters for Medicaid purposes. 

As mentioned above, the basic power of attorney is not adequate to address the countless types of transactions that may be needed in the context of estate and/or Medicaid planning. That is why it is important for Mary to speak with an attorney who concentrates in the areas of estate planning and elder law. 

In addition to being able to provide Mary with a power of attorney that meets her needs, the attorney will be able to discuss with Mary the importance of signing the Statutory Gifts Rider that is part of the New York statutory form. By signing the rider, Mary will be able to give her agent gifting authority to make gifts in excess of $500 per year to individuals or charitable organizations. This gifting authority is essential if Mary will be applying for Medicaid and has assets that must be moved out of her name in order to qualify for benefits. 

Without the rider, the power of attorney will not allow Mary’s agent to engage in last minute Medicaid planning that could mean the difference between being eligible for benefits and being forced to spend down her assets before receiving Medicaid. 

Linda M. Toga provides legal services in the areas of estate planning/elder law, probate and estate administration, real estate, small business service and litigation from her East Setauket office.

A new power of attorney should be prepared if the document you now have predates 2009. Stock photo

By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: I signed a power of attorney many years ago in which I named my spouse as my agent and my son as my successor agent. My son passed away recently. 

THE QUESTION: Should I have a new power of attorney prepared?

THE ANSWER: If you did not name a successor agent to act in the event your son was unable to do so, you should have a new power of attorney prepared. You should also have a new power of attorney prepared if the document you now have predates 2009. That is because the New York State Legislature created a new power of attorney form that became effective on Sept. 1, 2009. Minor changes were made to that form in 2010. 

Based upon my own experience and that of my clients, it appears that the people and entities that your agent may have to deal with will be more comfortable if the power of attorney upon which they are relying was signed relatively recently. They are very reluctant to accept the old form, which often was a single legal-sized piece of paper printed on both sides. 

Although the law requires that, absent evidence of fraud or wrongdoing, properly drafted and executed powers of attorney must be honored regardless of the age of the document, I recommend that my clients update their powers of attorney periodically. By doing so they increase the likelihood that their agents will not be faced with situations where the person with whom the agent needs to transact business on the client’s behalf improperly refuses to honor the power of attorney based upon its age. 

If the power of attorney in which you named your son as a successor agent was signed before September 2009, you will be surprised to see that the current power of attorney form is much longer and more complex than what you signed. While the goal of the current power of attorney is still to allow the principal to grant an agent or agents authority to carry out certain types of transactions on the principal’s behalf, post-2009 powers of attorney include a number of safeguards to protect the principal. 

For example, the current power of attorney warns the principal about abuse by agents. In the current form, the principal is not only given the option to name an individual to monitor the activity of his/her agent, but the principal is also required to sign a power of attorney rider in the presence of two witnesses and a notary public if he/she wants to give his/her agent the authority to make gifts in excess of $500.  

In an effort to educate the public, the current power of attorney provides agents with information about the duty of care they owe the principal and requires that the agent sign the power of attorney before acting on the principal’s behalf. By signing the power of attorney, the agent acknowledges that he/she must act in the best interest of the principal.  

Although it addresses some of the concerns that attorneys and the public had with the pre-2009 power of attorney, in its basic form the current power of attorney does not give the principal the ability to delegate authority to perform many types of transactions that agents are likely to be called upon to perform. This is especially true when the agent is acting on behalf of an elderly principal. 

Experienced attorneys routinely modify the current form by adding an exhaustive list of additional transactions and activities that the principal may wish to delegate to his agent. To ensure that the new power of attorney you sign is tailored to your needs, I urge you to retain an attorney who practices in the area of estate planning to explain in detail the current power of attorney and the various types of transaction and activities you may want to delegate, and to prepare for you a new power of attorney that reflects your wishes. 

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides personalized service and peace of mind to her clients in the areas of estate planning, real estate, marital agreements and litigation. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.

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