POA – Proceed On Alert
The Power of Attorney is perhaps the “most powerful” of all notarized documents. Some might argue the most powerful is the Will. I disagree. Wills are probated by a Court, an extended legal procedure with notifications, attorneys, and a Judge involved. On the other hand, someone with “just” a POA can gain access to a safe deposit box, sell a house; and do virtually any other function “for” the Principal who granted Agent power to them. POAs can be limited in authority when the Principal initials selected powers, or they can be, as is more common, unlimited.
There are many addicting drugs, perhaps one of the most addictive is Cocaine, a dangerous drug indeed. I think of the POA as the Cocaine of legal documents. With a properly notarized POA that is unrestricted the Agent can access funds, close accounts, sell property, enter into contracts and sign virtually any document on behalf of the Principal. It is the potential for misuse, and the subsequent litigation that has caused many bank notaries to decline processing all POAs. The bank fears its “deep pockets” will become involved in protracted court cases.
There is a slim ray of sunshine in the Power of Attorney gloom. Persons wanting notarization of POAs often have a legitimate personal gain to follow. They are eager to pay mobile notaries, having been rejected at the bank, pharmacy, etc. So the good news is they are willing to pay, but the bad news is that POAs have a somewhat greater risk to the Notary. It’s a good idea to “double down” on the ID requirements, requiring two “rock solid” IDs prior to notarization. POAs being processed at a hospital, by a patient are especially dangerous. The hospital cannot tell you what drugs the patient is taking. How are you to know if they understand what they are signing? End of Life patients often receive Morphine and other powerful medications.
There is also the general misunderstanding about how POAs are used to consider. Generally, they are surrendered upon use. The bank granting access to a safe deposit box will probably retain the Power of Attorney to protect them against potential litigation. It’s a good idea to inquire if the POA is needed for a “one shot”, such as having an attorney sign at a closing. At the other extreme, someone who will be handling the affairs for an elderly relative might need a dozen or more POAs; for banks, brokerage accounts, even to arrange “call forwarding” of cell numbers. Take the time to determine your client’s real need, and how many they will require.
Plan on spending more time at a POA signing compared to other documents. Often the Principal will “rethink” the transaction. It’s a major “letting go” of individuality; as the documents does permit someone else to sign your name. I have attended POA signings at law firms where the Principal reviewed and expressed the desire to make major changes in the POA; even though the issues and powers have been discussed with the attorney at length prior to my arrival.
Though the POA grants the right to sign the name of someone else, it is not without some limits. If I were to give my Agent an unrestricted POA, they could not use my signature to notarize a document; as that authority cannot be granted to another person. Some notaries have taken the position that the risks are too great and refuse to process POAs. In New York State, where the code requires the notary to “notarize upon demand” if the notarization is legal; it’s a crime to decline. The environment is growing more complex. There are no easy answers.