A power of attorney lets you select another person that can act on your behalf to manage your property and money. In Maryland, the person to whom you are giving this power is called your agent (other places might call this person an “attorney-in-fact” or “proxy). Here are some considerations in selecting your agent.
The powers given to your agent are broad and sweeping. You should trust the person you name as your agent with these powers.
You have some flexibility in the powers you can give your agent, but generally your agent has the power to:
- Manage your bank accounts and retirement plans
- Pay your bills and taxes
- Manage your real and personal property
- Invest your money
- Make legal claims and file lawsuits
- Hire an attorney, accountant or investment manager on your behalf
Your agent does not have the power to make medical decisions for you (you’ll need an advance directive for that.) Your agent’s power terminates when you die. If you want your agent to handle matters after you die (deciding on funeral arrangements, paying of bills, distributing inheritances), you’ll need to name that person as your personal representative under your will.
Because your agent has such great power over your assets, you should make sure you select someone you trust. Your agent will operate with very little oversight. Here are some characteristics of a good agent:
- Willing and able to serve
- Can keep good records
- Lives nearby or can travel if necessary
- Does not have any financial interests that conflict with yours
- Can comfortably talk about power of attorney now
You should also consider selecting a backup agent in case your first agent is not available. You may select co-agents, but then you risk that they may no cooperate and getting both signatures could cause delay.
For most married couples, the best choice will be each other. There is no requirement to do so, however.
Do not select someone you don’t trust as your agent or backup agent. There are plenty of horror stories in Maryland where a power of attorney was used to steal money. Other options, like a court-appointed guardianship, are more cumbersome, but can provide additional supervision and safeguards.
Talk to an estate planning lawyer about your power of attorney and who might be the best choice to be your agent.
Montefusco Estate Planning, LLC is an estate planning law firm in Frederick, MD. If you are interested in our services, contact us today. This information is written for the context of Maryland estate planning but is not legal advice for anyone. For more information, read our disclaimer.