A power of attorney is a document signed by a person (the principal) giving another person (the agent or the attorney-in-fact) the legal right to take certain actions on their behalf. For example, a principal may give their agent the power to sign checks on their behalf, or to make gifts on their behalf. A “durable” power of attorney is a power of attorney that survives the incapacity of the principal, such that if the principal becomes incapable of managing their property or business affairs, the agent may continue to take actions on their behalf during their incapacity. When the principal dies, however, the power of attorney terminates.
Powers of attorney are very common in Virginia, and elsewhere. They make it easier for a person’s affairs to be handled when they are unable, for whatever reason, to manage their affairs on their own. For example, if a person is elderly and needs help writing checks, paying bills, and engaging in other transactions, a power of attorney might be used so that a loved one can help them with such tasks.
Unfortunately, however, powers of attorney can be abused. An agent is a fiduciary for the principal, meaning that they have a duty to act in good faith, in accordance with the principal’s expectations, and loyal to the principal. In our law practice, we are regularly contacted by concerned family members who believe an agent is misusing a power of attorney. In many of these situations, after we investigate, we can confirm the agent is not acting improperly. But in some situations, it is clear the agent is using the power of attorney to take advantage of the principal. In those situations, legal action may be necessary.
The Uniform Power of Attorney Act in Virginia gives certain family members and other persons the right, in some limited situations, to obtain information from the agent as to how they are handling the principal’s affairs. And, of course, the principal may always question the agent about how they are using the power of attorney. The principal also has the right to revoke the power of attorney document at any time, and for any reason.
Estate Litigation and Power of Attorney Abuse Legal Services
If you have questions about how a power of attorney is being used for a loved one, you should consider consulting with an attorney who is experienced in this area of the law. Here at The Mottley Law Firm, we regularly advise clients with respect to powers of attorney, estate plans, and legal instruments, such as trust documents.
When we are asked to provide advice relating to the handling of a power of attorney, we start by offering an initial consultation for a fixed fee of $500. As part of the initial consultation, you will get up to one hour of our attorney’s time to discuss your situation with you, and you will receive some initial guidance from us as to what Virginia law says about your situation in our opinion. In most cases, this initial consultation results in the matter not proceeding further. But in some cases, legal action is necessary.