A person who is granted power of attorney, called either an "agent" or an "attorney-in-fact," is authorized by the person granting the power, called the "principal," the right to perform specific tasks. Whether an attorney-in-fact can open or close bank accounts, credit cards or other financial instruments on behalf of the principal is entirely dependent upon the kinds of power granted. Talk to an attorney if you need legal advice about power of attorney in your state.
Kinds of Powers
Powers of attorney documents can grant an agent a variety of powers, including the right to make financial decisions. What kinds of decision-making rights the agent receives is always up to the principal. The principal can grant the agent the specific right to open or close accounts by listing this right in the power of attorney documents. He can grant the agent a general power of attorney, the broadest kind, or a financial power of attorney, giving the agent the right to conduct any financial transactions on his behalf.
The question of when an attorney-in-fact can open or close account is also important. In general, a power of attorney becomes effective as soon as it meets the state's requirements for these documents, meaning it must be written down and signed by the principal. As soon as this happens, the agent has the right to close or open accounts in the principal's behalf. The principal can, however, also determine that this power only takes effect at a certain time. These powers of attorney are referred to as "springing" powers because they take effect at some later time or on specific conditions.
An agent can continue to act on behalf of the principal as long as the principal retains the ability to revoke the power of attorney. As soon as the principal loses this ability, the power of attorney is terminated. A principal can also grant a durable power of attorney, meaning the agent's abilities to make decisions continue even after the principal becomes incapacitated. Some states presume that all powers of attorney are non-durable unless stated otherwise, while others presume the exact opposite.
All powers of attorney terminate immediately upon the principal's death. Agents acting on behalf of the principal who do not know that the principal has died can, however, still open or close accounts on the principal's behalf. Once the agent learns of the principal's death, he can no longer act as attorney-in-fact. To close accounts after the principal's death, the former agent must be appointed as executor of the principal's estate by the will or by the state probate court.
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