Powers of attorney can be a wonderful tool to help individuals manage their property and wellbeing. It is a tremendous responsibility and the person being given the power should be trustworthy, understanding, and loyal. If you’re planning on establishing a power of attorney or are being assigned to one, you may have some questions. We’ll break down the ins and outs of powers of attorney in Maryland so you can make informed decisions.
Defining Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document that gives a person the legal authority to act on behalf of another person. A person can be assigned to manage the affairs of another in the event that person is unable to do so.
The person who grants the power is referred to as the principal, while the person who receives the power is known as the agent or attorney-in-fact. The official document establishes what the agent is able to do and how much power they have. Powers of attorney are assumed durable in Maryland unless specifically stated. This means that the powers are intact in the event the principal becomes incapacitated.
According to Maryland Code, Estates and Trusts § § 17-101 – 17-204, any writing or other record that grants a person the power to act on behalf of another will be read as a legal power of attorney. The document does not need to contain the phrase “power of attorney.”
Creating a Power of Attorney in Maryland
To create a power of attorney in Maryland, a person must meet the following qualifications:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Plan to give the power to the person they designate on the official document
- Be mentally competent
To be mentally competent, a person must be able to understand the power of attorney document, which powers they are granting to the agent, and which property is affected by the powers they are granting.
Typically, the document goes into effect as soon as the principal signs it. In some situations; however, the agent is only granted power after certain events – like it the principal was to become disabled. The power of attorney document must be very specific so that the requirements for enacting the agent are entirely understood. The principal also has the right to say when an event makes the powers effective.
In the event the principal becomes sick or hurt and no one has been authorized to determine when the power of attorney goes into effect, a doctor or judge has the legal authority to make the determination.
The Duties of a Power of Attorney
The official document will describe the powers granted to the agent. If there is a question regarding the agent’s powers, the principal, agent, guardian of the principal, principal’s family member, or a government agency may petition the court to determine what powers the agent is actually entitled to.
A general power of attorney gives the agent the right to act for the principal in all personal and business matters. This generally includes managing bank accounts, stocks, real estate, legal matters, and contracts. A limited power of attorney only grants the powers that are specifically stated in the document. This may limit an agent’s power in regard to financial matters or medical decisions.
In all situations, the agent is required to act loyally and in the best interests of the principal. They should be able to determine what the principal would do or would want them to do, to the best of their ability. Agents are also supposed to keep track of all transactions and receipts made on behalf of the principal. If there is a separate person designated to make health care decisions, the two parties must cooperate and continue to make decisions in the principal’s best interests.
While the agent has a right to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses while acting and making decisions for the principal, Maryland Code, Estates and Trusts § 17-144 declares the agent has no right to payments beyond that, unless it has been stated in the official power of attorney document.
Medical Powers of Attorney
A medical power of attorney, also called an advanced directive, gives someone, the health care agent, the power to make decisions for the principal in the event something happens that leaves them incapacitated or incapable of making medical decisions. Under the Maryland Health Care Decision Act, an owner, operator, or employee of the health care facility where the principal is being cared for cannot serve as an agent unless the power was established prior to admittance.
An advanced directive may be written or electronic, but it must be signed, dated, and witnessed by two witnesses. The appointed health care agent cannot act as a witness. The principal is responsible for telling their doctor about it.
Generally, the advance directive goes into effect when the principal falls too ill to make decisions about their care and treatment. If the principal is unconscious or unable to communicate, their doctor or the attending physician is allowed to determine when the directive goes into effect. If that is not the case, two doctors must certify the principal is no longer able to make informed decisions about their health and treatment.
Ending the Power of Attorney
There are a number of ways a power of attorney may come to an end. Those ways include the following:
- The principal dies
- The principal becomes incapacitated unless the power of attorney is durable
- The principal revokes the power of attorney
- The purpose is accomplished
- The agent resigns, dies, or becomes incapacitated
Understanding the complexities revolving powers of attorney can be overwhelming, especially if you’re attempting to assign an agent. Contact us today if you have questions pertaining to legal matters concerning an injury you sustained in Maryland.
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