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Getting Into Trouble Helping Others

One way this happens is when a person has been named to act as a person’s agent under power of attorney (some would say to act as a persons power of attorney), and performs in that role in good faith and with good intentions, but in a way that may harm the person who appointed them, or puts themselves at risk.

We have seen this happen most commonly, when the agent fails to keep diligent records of what they have done, that justify and explain what a certain expenditure was for.  This can be especially painful where a person has helped a failing parent over maybe some period of years, and after the parent dies a sibling challenges what they have done, and the agent does not have clear records that they used the parent’s funds only for the benefit of the parent.  It can also happen where an agent has comingled the parent’s / principal’s funds with their own interests, perhaps by co-owning an account, which is prohibited by basic laws of principal and agent.  If you are serving as the agent for another, and you have not done so, you should invest a little time and money in getting advised by an experienced attorney, and possibly accountant, about how to discharge your responsibilities in a manner that does not put you, or your parent / principal, at risk.  ALWAYS make it clear whenever you sign a document as an agent, or conduct any business for the principal, that you are ACTING AS AN AGENT.  Failure to do this might cause you to be personally liable for the actions you undertake.

We don’t mean to discourage anyone from serving as an agent, but we do think before beginning to act as an agent under a power of attorney a person should fully understand what they are getting into (which itself may take a bit of investigation) and how to go about the role in a way that helps the principal, but doesn’t put themselves at risk.

This is just a brief note about these issues.  Please take the time to be advised by knowledgeable professionals about how to conduct yourself, so as not to place yourself at risk, for helping another.

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