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July 24, 2013

The Law and You: July 24, 2013

A power of attorney is frequently used to authorize another person to act for you in financial matters.

It can be very helpful if you are not able to handle your own affairs. Many family and friends, however, worry that their loved one’s power of attorney is being misused.

New York General Obligations Law sections 5-1501 to 1514 cover powers of attorney and provide what is called a “statutory short form power of attorney.”

SOMEONE YOU TRUST

It is so easy to prepare a power of attorney that the person granting it does not always appreciate how much power they are giving away. New York law was revised in 2009 to require clear warnings to both the person granting the power of attorney (the principal) of what is being given up and to the person named in it (the agent) of the responsibilities that go with it.

The power of attorney can be broad or limited, as the principal prefers. It may be for just a single transaction, like a closing, or give complete authority over all financial matters.

Many powers of attorney are called “durable,” meaning that they continue in effect after the principal becomes incapacitated. When the principal is ill or aging, that is often the purpose of granting one — knowing that someone else will take care of things once you no longer can. 

A power of attorney ends when the principal dies.

In giving someone your power of attorney, you want to choose someone you trust. As the form cautions: “You give the person you choose ... authority to spend your money and sell or dispose of your property during your lifetime without telling you.”

That’s a lot of power, and it can be abused.

‘IN BEST INTEREST’

Sadly, not everyone who is nice to you is trustworthy. This may not be realized until that person uses the power of attorney to take your money or assets.

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