Responsibilities of an Agent under a Power of Attorney

The concept of a power of attorney sounds simple but there is a lot to know about this important part of an estate plan, says the Rushville Republican in “Financial power of attorney responsibilities.” Whether you are named as someone’s power of attorney or you are considering who to name on your behalf, it is important to understand the terminology, the role and the responsibilities.

The person who signs the POA is called the “principal” and the person to whom authority is given, is often referred to as the “attorney in fact” or the “agent.”

What powers are given to the person who becomes the agent?  The POA provides what powers the agent will have, but generally the idea is the agent can do whatever the individual would do. That includes opening bank accounts, buying and selling property, managing investments, filing taxes, cashing checks and closing accounts. An agent is a considered a fiduciary of the principal, which means that he has a legal duty to act in the principal’s best interest.

The POA generally is not recorded in a courthouse. If you are signing a document for the principal that does have to be recorded with the county, like a deed to a house, then you will need to present and record the POA with the county recorder, before the document can be recorded. The laws in your state or county may be different, so check with your estate planning attorney to be certain.

The POA should remember to keep his assets and the principal’s assets separate. Money should not be intermingled in bank accounts or investment accounts. This is a very important point, since the fiduciary responsibility is a serious matter. The POA can be changed or revoked by the principal at any time, as long as she is mentally competent.

The POA ends with the death of the principal. It is meant to be used as a helpful tool, while the person is living. After the person dies, the executor takes over as the personal representative of the person’s estate.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about making the decisions as to who should be your Power of Attorney. This is a very important role and it must be someone who you can trust implicitly and who is also willing to take on the responsibilities.

 

Reference: Rushville Republican (Jan. 22,2019) “Financial power of attorney responsibilities”

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Does Your Estate Plan Include Digital Property?

Many clients own digital property, but need estate plans utilizing new laws to control and protect their digital legacies.

One of the challenges facing estate plans today is a new class of assets, known as digital property or digital assets. When a person dies, what happens to their digital lives? According to the article “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning” from the Cleveland Jewish News, digital assets need to be included in an estate plan, just like any other property.

What is a digital asset? There are many, but the basics include things like social media—Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat—as well as financial accounts, bank and investment accounts, blogs, photo sharing accounts, cloud storage, text messages, emails and more. If it has a username and a password and you access it on a digital device, consider it a digital asset.  I wrote recently on this topic in response to Pennsylvania’s passage of a law addressing digital property, so see there for more details on what these assets are  https://www.galliganmanning.com/new-digital-asset-law-passes-in-pennsylvania/

Business and household files stored on a local computer or in the cloud should also be considered as digital assets. The same goes for any cryptocurrency; Bitcoin is the most well-known type, and there are many others.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) has been adopted by almost all states to provide legal guidance on rights to access digital property for four (4) different types of fiduciaries: executors, trustees, agents under a financial power of attorney and guardians. The law allows people the right to grant not only their digital assets, but the contents of their communications. It establishes a three-tier system for the user, the most important part being if the person expresses permission in an online platform for a specific asset, directly with the custodian of a digital platform, that is the controlling law. If they have not done so, they can provide for permission to be granted in their estate planning documents. They can also allow or forbid people to gain access to their digital assets.  Texas has such a law, and we prepare our estate planning documents to address such property.

If a person does not take either of these steps, the terms of service they agreed to with the platform custodian governs the rights to access or deny access to their digital assets.

It’s important to discuss this new asset class with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan addresses your digital assets. Having a list of digital assets is a first step, but it’s just the start. Leaving the family to plead with a tech giant to gain access to digital accounts is a stressful legacy to leave behind.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Sep. 24, 2020) “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning”

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How to Pick a Trustee

Clients frequently choose to use trusts in their estate plans, and once they and their estate planning attorney have made that decision, they’ll need to decide who to name as trustee or trustees. Picking a trustee is not always an easy process, explains Kiplinger in the article “Guidance on Choosing the Right Trustee (or Trustees) for Your Estate.”

Serving as a trustee creates many duties under state law, including acting as a fiduciary to the trust. That means the trustee must be impartial about their own interests, put the beneficiary’s interests and well-being first and be prudent with how they invest funds. Law prohibits a trustee from self-dealing, although depending on the scenario, the trustee might also be the beneficiary.

Here are a long series of questions that will help to assess a person’s ability to serve as a trustee:

  • Will the person be able to separate their personal feelings and interests from those of the beneficiaries?
  • Will all parties be treated fairly, especially if your children are not also your spouse’s children?
  • Can your trustee manage finances and investments?
  • Is there any risk that your trustee will be tempted to take a risk to obtain money at the expense of beneficiaries, including their own money problems or addiction?
  • Are there concerns about the health, age or capacity of the person?
  • Will a child who is a trustee be fair to the other siblings, even if they are step siblings?
  • Will a child be able to stand up to the other siblings?
  • Will the person who is managing work and family have the time to take on the responsibilities of the trustee when they will likely be needed to do so?
  • Does the person understand the family dynamics?
  • Has the person served as a trustee before?

Another common problem is people are unsure of who to ask in their family or where to look for back-up trustees, especially where they might not feel comfortable with those closest to them.  With that in mind, here are some potential people to consider, although their suitability will vary greatly in different circumstances:

  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Children, step children, and grandchildren
  • Siblings and step siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins
  • Spouses of children, step children, siblings or other close family
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Members of social groups, fraternal organizations, religious communities or other similar groups
  • Financial Professionals (not necessarily financial planners who likely aren’t permitted to, but CPAs or some attorneys for example)
  • Professional Trustees (e.g. a bank or other similar trustee)

I should note as well that I’m focusing on trustees in this article, but many of these same considerations apply to other fiduciary roles.  See here for more information on the other roles to consider.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-difference-between-an-executor-a-trustee-and-other-fiduciaries/

There is no one size fits all approach to picking a trustee, but hopefully this will provide guidance on who is right for you.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 8, 2020) “Guidance on Choosing the Right Trustee (or Trustees) for Your Estate”

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