The Essential Role of a Power of Attorney Agent

Posted on July 7, 2023 by shieldsandboris

Every person has a legacy to protect. You should have a well-structured, fully personalized estate plan and elder care plan in place. When done properly, estate planning is about far more than determining who gets to inherit what. It is about putting the right system in place to protect yourself, your family, and your finances.

A power of attorney (POA) is a core estate planning document. Every adult in Pennsylvania should have a POA set up. Your agent—the party entrusted with your POA—will become responsible for managing certain financial and legal affairs if you cannot do so on your own. Here, our Pennsylvania elder law attorneys provide an in-depth overview of the essential role of a power of attorney agent.

Power of Attorney: Understanding the Basics

Broadly defined, a Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows an individual, referred to as the principal, to appoint someone else, known as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to act on their behalf. It is an estate planning/elder law document that can be particularly helpful when the principal is unable to manage their own affairs due to health issues or other circumstances. Notably, in Pennsylvania, there are actually different types of POA. Some grant the agent broad powers. Others granted the agent the authority to perform specific actions.

What Can a Power of Attorney Agent Do in Pennsylvania?

As stated, a power of attorney is an essential and foundational estate planning document for people in Pennsylvania. This raises an important question: What can your agent actually do with POA? The answer depends, in part, on the specific structure of the POA that you set up. Some notable things that a power of attorney agent can generally do with POA in Pennsylvania include:

  • Make Financial Decisions: The agent can make crucial financial decisions on behalf of the principal, including things like managing investments, purchasing or selling assets, and taking steps to protect the principal’s financial interests.
  • Pay Bills: A POA agent is responsible for ensuring that the principal's bills are paid on time, including utility bills, credit card payments, and other liabilities.
  • File Tax Returns: A POA agent can prepare and file the principal’s tax returns. They should gather the necessary documents, ensure that the filings are accurate, and submit them to the relevant tax authorities.
  • Handle Legal Affairs: If the principal is involved in legal matters, the POA agent can represent them in court or in negotiations.
  • Manage Government Benefits: The agent can manage government benefits on behalf of the principal. Among other things, the agent may apply for benefits, ensure compliance with program requirements, and communicate with government agencies.
  • Make Healthcare Decisions (If Specified): POA can be tailored to include healthcare decisions if it is a healthcare POA. It is a power that allows the agent to make medical decisions on behalf of the principal when they are unable to do so.

Who Can Serve as Your POA in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, the principal can appoint almost any competent adult as their Power of Attorney agent. To be clear, this means that you can appoint a family member, friend, or other person with whom you have a close connection. Additionally, you can also select a professional as your POA, such as an experienced attorney.

Regardless of who you choose, it is essential that the appointed person is trustworthy, reliable, and capable of handling the responsibilities involved. The agent must act in the best interests of the principal and should be able to make decisions that align with the principal's values and preferences. You need someone who is both capable and willing to fulfil the responsibilities.

The Advantages of Naming a Lawyer or Law Firm as Your Power of Attorney Agent

For a number of different reasons, naming a professional as your POA offers a number of different essential advantages. Many people and Western Pennsylvania can best protect their rights and preserve their legacy by selecting a qualified lawyer or law firm and their POA agency. Here are some of the key reasons why you can benefit from choosing an attorney:

  • True Expertise in Legal Matters: Lawyers are trained in legal matters and have extensive knowledge of the laws and regulations. Your attorney will be well-positioned to make decisions that are compliant with the law.
  • Impartial Decision-Making: A potential downside of choosing a family member or friend is the risk of conflict of interest. In contrast, a lawyer can provide an unbiased perspective. Your attorney can make decisions that best serve your interests without being influenced by personal relationships or emotions.
  • Reliability and Accountability: Law firms are bound by professional standards and ethics. This ensures a higher level of reliability and accountability compared to appointing a family member or friend.
  • Mitigation of Family Conflict: With estate planning and elder law, intra-family conflicts are always a risk that needs to be addressed and mitigated. Naming a lawyer as an agent can prevent family disputes that may arise if a relative were given control over your affairs.
  • Record-Keeping and Reporting: Lawyers and law firms are adept at keeping thorough records and can provide detailed reports on how your affairs are being managed, ensuring transparency.
  • Longevity and Continuity: Another important advantage of working with a law firm as your POA is that the firm offers continuity. You do not have to worry about health issues or life changes that may render an individual unable to serve as your agent.

We Protect the Legacy of People and Families in Western Pennsylvania

At The Elder Law Offices of Shields & Boris, we have nearly seven decades of combined legal experience. If you have any questions about the role of a power of attorney agent, we are here to help. Give us a phone call now at (724) 302-3718 or contact us online to arrange your completely confidential, no-obligation consultation. With offices in North Hills, South Hills, Washington, and Beaver, we are well-positioned to provide elder law services throughout the Pittsburgh area.

Download an eBook!