The Pennsylvania Legislature saw a need to protect individuals from the abusive use of powers by Agents under Powers of Attorney. Act 95 of 2014 was the result. Most of the new law took effect at the beginning of this year. If you had a Power of Attorney (POA) drafted after January 1st or want to get a Power of Attorney so that your financial affairs could proceed even if you no longer could handle them, then you must make sure it complies with Act 95’s changes. Generally, an older POA remains valid. However, due to the changes involving various powers, you might be wise to discuss your current and future concerns with an attorney to see if a new Power of Attorney might benefit you. Also, while you could go to the internet to attempt to draft a POA, remember that Act 95 made major revisions to the law, with the added complexities needing review during the drafting process – a do-it-yourself POA found on a website is not exempt from the new requirements but may not include them.
Unlike POAs focused on medical issues, a financial Power of Attorney in Pennsylvania should include the statutory Notice signed by the Principal, for whom the POA exists, and requires an Acknowledgment for all Agents named by the Principal regarding their duties when acting in this capacity. Both forms changed at the beginning of 2015. The Notice has been revised and must include only capital letters. The Acknowledgment experienced a greater overhaul. While the statutory example was altered, the actual wording now can deviate from the example. For example, you could decide your Agent doesn’t have the duty to keep assets separate from yours. Although this usually is not a good decision, Act 95 allows the waiver of this duty by the Principal, which means that it would be deleted from the Acknowledgment. Before the new law, this duty was mandatory and had to be in the Acknowledgment.
Another change with the financial Power of Attorney is what legal requirements exist for its execution. Pennsylvania only required the date and Principal’s signature at the end. No witnesses were needed. Now, you need two witnesses (neither of whom is an Agent in the POA) as well as a Notary’s involvement. Also, none of these three roles can be filled by the same person so, while only the Principal was needed prior to this year, three additional people now are required to have a valid Power of Attorney. This is stricter than what other estate-planning tools, such as a Will, require for execution. It has been suggested that the reason for this is due to the impact on the Principal being greater under the POA (since the person still is alive) than it would be with a Will, which takes effect after death. Regardless of the reason, you have to be aware of this if you want your POA to be recognized in Pennsylvania.
Those are important changes, but the usefulness in estate planning of the Power of Attorney is affected elsewhere in Act 95. Due to sweeping changes introduced by this law, not all can be covered here, but some major ones follow.
“Reasonable expectations” have been added. An Agent should act according to your reasonable expectations “to the extent actually known.” This may seem a bit vague since the Agent has to know your reasonable expectations in any area that you granted the Agent authority to act. To ensure your Agent knows what you expect, you have to include these expectations in the Power of Attorney — they aren’t defined elsewhere, and only you can define your reasonable expectations. Agents also must act loyally for the Principal’s benefit. What if acting loyally works against the benefit of the Principal? The drafting of the POA is important in defining terms and duties for guidance and to avoid “what if” scenarios that could arise under the new law.
Duties of the Agent have been touched upon, but they are tied to powers given in the Power of Attorney. Again, Act 95 has made numerous changes in the law. While the Power of Attorney is a general grant of authority for an Agent to act, eight powers (so-called “hot powers”) must be explicitly listed to be available. These, generally, are concerned with estate-planning issues. They include: creating, amending, revoking, or terminating an inter vivos trust; making a gift; creating or changing survivorship rights; creating or changing a beneficiary designation; delegating authority granted under the Power of Attorney; waiving the Principal’s right to be a beneficiary of a joint and survivor annuity, including a retirement plan’s survivor benefit; exercising fiduciary powers the Principal can delegate; and disclaiming property, including powers of appointment.
There also are 22 statutory “short-form” powers that can be in the Power of Attorney. These are familiar to anyone who has worked with the prior law. To a large extent, they are estate-planning tools. However, two of them involve healthcare issues and probably should be in a separate medical POA since Act 95 focuses on financial issues. Also, the power to make “limited” gifts is noted while the power to make gifts is a hot power. They are different because a limited gift cannot exceed the annual gift-tax exclusion ($14,000 currently) while the other power is not limited. Although short-form powers are not as powerful as hot powers regarding changes they can make, they still have value when it comes to estate planning. Beyond estate planning, the Power of Attorney could handle a related topic: long-term care planning. Knowing the Principal’s objectives is crucial in drafting a document tailored around powers needed to achieve those objectives.
This gives a basic view of various issues that Act 95 has introduced into the drafting of a financial Power of Attorney. Much more can be said and written about this topic. This, ultimately, is the main point. Sweeping changes have been made, and there is no way one POA size can fit all. Before you decide to execute a Power of Attorney, you must know the options and their possible implications. As these implications can be substantial, you should consider consulting an attorney who works in this area of law because what may have seemed simple to do previously is now a complex web of possibilities to explore to find what fits your needs and wishes. Such is the state of the Power of Attorney in Pennsylvania after the advent of Act 95 of 2014.