Do You Need Power of Attorney If You Have a Joint Account?

Clients often, sometimes at the suggestion of their bankers, add names onto accounts to make money accessible upon the incapacity or death of a parent.  This often leads them to assume they don’t need a Power of Attorney (POA), and they don’t realize that Powers of Attorney are designed to permit access to accounts upon incapacity of a parent. There are some pros and cons of doing this in either way, as discussed in the article “POAs vs. joint ownership” from NWI.com.

The POA permits the agent to access their parent’s bank accounts, make deposits and write checks.  However, it doesn’t create any ownership interest in the bank accounts. It allows access and signing authority.  This is usually what individuals are thinking of when they create these accounts.

If the person’s parent wants to add them to the account, they become a joint owner of the account. When this happens, the person has the same authority as the parent, accessing the account and making deposits and withdrawals.

However, there are downsides. Once the person is added to the account as a joint owner, their relationship changes. As a POA, they are a fiduciary, which means they have a legally enforceable responsibility to put their parent’s benefits above their own.  As an owner, they can treat the accounts as if they were their own and there’s no requirement to be held to a higher standard of financial care.  You can see the following article for more on this point.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/effect-of-adding-someone-to-your-bank-account/

Because the POA does not create an ownership interest in the account, when the owner dies, the account may pass to the surviving joint owners, Payable on Death (POD) beneficiaries or beneficiaries under the parent’s estate plan.

It also avoids the creation of a gift, which may have estate tax or Medicaid ramifications.

If the account is owned jointly, when one of the joint owners dies, the other person becomes the sole owner.

Another issue to consider is that becoming a joint owner means the account could be vulnerable to creditors for all owners. If the adult child has any debt issues, the parent’s account could be attached by creditors, before or after their passing.  I worked closing on a case with the opposite scenario, a creditor a parent collected money that otherwise would have gone to the children.

Most estate planning attorneys recommend the use of a POA rather than adding an owner to a joint account. If the intent of the owners is to give the child the proceeds of the bank account, they can name the child a POD on the account for when they pass and use a POA, so the child can access the account while they are living.

One last point: while the parent is still living, the child should contact the bank and provide them with a copy of the POA. This, allows the bank to enter the POA into the system and add the child as a signatory on the account. If there are any issues, they are best resolved before while the parent is still living.

Reference: NWI.com (Aug. 15, 2021) “POAs vs. joint ownership”

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Can I Revoke a Power of Attorney?

I wanted to cover something of a follow-up to last week’s blog entry entitled Why Won’t My Power of Attorney Work which you can find here: https://www.galliganmanning.com/why-wont-my-power-of-attorney-work/.  In that article I talked about limitations to powers of attorney and scenarios when they won’t work or at least not well.  In this article, I want to briefly address how to revoke a power of attorney.  The recent article from nwi.com entitled  “Estate Planning: Revoking a power of attorney” also addresses this topic.

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a document that allows another person to act on your behalf. The person designated is referred to as the “Attorney in Fact” or the “Agent.”  However, sometimes a family faces difficulty because the choice of agent no longer makes sense, or perhaps was only needed for a brief time.  Even worse, the family may determine the agent is a bad actor whose authority needs to end.

If the creator of the POA wants to revoke it, they have to do so in writing.  They should also identify the person who is to be revoked as the POA and must be signed by the person who is revoking the POA.

Here’s the tricky part: the agent has to know it’s been revoked.  Unless the agent has actual knowledge of the revocation, they may continue to use the POA and financial institutions may continue to accept it.  If you are revoking a power of attorney because the agent isn’t suitable or a bad actor, you have a problem.  You can’t slip off to your estate planning lawyer’s office, revoke the POA and hope the person will never know.

Another way to revoke a POA, and this is the preferred method, is to execute a new one. In most states, most durable POAs include a provision that the new POA revokes any prior POAs. By executing a new POA that revokes the prior ones, you have a valid revocation that is in writing and signed by the principal.

If you already had an acting agent and you created the new POA, send them a copy and retain proof that you did so to demonstrate they were aware of the new POA and new appointment.

If the POA has been recorded for any reason such as use in a real estate transaction, the revocation should reference that fact and should be recorded just as a new POA would be filed to replace the old one. If the POA has been provided to any individuals or financial institutions, such as banks, life insurance companies, financial advisors, etc., they will need to be properly notified that it has been revoked or replaced.

Two cautions: not telling the bad and having her find out after the principal has passed or is incapacitated might be a painful blow, with no resolution. Telling the person during lifetime and before there are issues is a good idea. A diplomatic approach is best: the principal wishes to adjust her estate plan and the attorney made some recommendations, this revocation among them, should suffice.

Talk with your estate planning lawyer to ensure that the POA is changed properly, and that all POAs have been updated.

Reference: nwi.com (March 7, 2021) “Estate Planning: Revoking a power of attorney”

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