A power of attorney (POA) is a legally binding document that authorizes one individual known as the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact” to make important decisions on behalf of another person known as the “principal”. The exact decisions the agent has control over all depend on the type of power of attorney the principal decides upon. Some of them could include financial transactions, legal decisions, and healthcare options. There will be times when the agent has to sign as power of attorney on behalf of the agent to make the decisions legally binding.
When signing a power of attorney document on behalf of the principal, the process is slightly different from signing documents as yourself. In this article, we answer all your questions on this topic and discuss how to sign as attorney-in-fact in the correct format so your legal documents are accepted.
Steps for Signing as Power of Attorney
The main point you need to know when learning how to sign as attorney-in-fact is that the agent must note that they are legally signing on the principal’s behalf. In other words, it must be clear in the power of attorney signature that that agent’s signature belongs to them and not to the principal. Without this, the agreement could not be accepted by some legal and financial institutes. In worst cases, it could result in a criminal or civil lawsuit as the signature could be considered fraudulent. To help you out, here is a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to write a power of attorney signature with a working example.
Step 1: Bring the POA and ID
Most large decisions that need to be made will happen in person at a meeting with the institution, be that a government agency, financial establishment, or bank. When attending the meeting in which you will be signing a power of attorney, ensure you bring the POA document. In most cases, a copy will already have been registered with the institution. However, it is still worth bringing one as a backup just in case.
The second thing you will need to bring is a photographic ID to prove that you are the individual appointed as the agent in the power of attorney document. Examples include a valid passport or a drivers’ license. This is required for verification that you are indeed the person in control of the principal’s decisions.
Step 2: Format Correctly
The next step is determining what format the institution wants the power of attorney signature to be in. This will vary by establishment, but below are some examples of commonly seen formats that the agent may be required to use:
[Principal’s name] by [Attorney-in-fact’s name] Power of attorney
[Attorney-in-fact’s name], Attorney-in-fact for [Principal’s name]
[Principal’s name] by [Attorney-in-fact’s name] as Attorney-in-fact
[Attorney-in-fact’s name], POA for [Principal’s name]
As you can see, there are multiple different format variations. Where possible, contact the establishment prior to the meeting so no mistakes are made when signing power of attorney. Pay attention to the preferred ordering of the names and any abbreviations. If the bank, financial agency, or government institution has no set formatting for their power of attorney signature, the top example here is your standard format to follow.
Step 3: Signing as Power of Attorney
Having done the preparation work, it is now time to sign the document on the principal’s behalf. For this example, we will be using the standard formatting guidelines as detailed above: [Principal’s name] by [Attorney-in-fact’s name] Power of attorney:
1) Sign the principal’s name on the signature line. Be sure to use their full legal name as previously registered with the institution including any middle names. Their name on the line shows that the signature is on their behalf.
2) Sign the attorney-in-fact’s name below the principal’s name. Before the agent’s name, be sure to write the word “by” to show that the principal’s signature has been written by this second person rather than the principal.
3) Below the agent’s signature, write “Power of attorney” to prove that this person has the legal authority to be signing on the principal’s behalf. Failure to do so will invalidate the agreement, even if the other two steps have been followed and there is a legal POA document.
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Duties of an Attorney-in-Fact
When signing a power of attorney on behalf of the principal, it is important to never exceed the authority given in the POA. Therefore, it is vital to understand the duties of an attorney-in-fact to ensure you never overstep the limitations of the document. This is dependent on the type of power of attorney that has been established. Some will grant broad control over multiple areas of finances and business, whereas others will offer more limited power. Before signing as attorney-in-fact, check that you do have the legal authority to be making this decision. If unsure, we recommend consulting with an attorney who will better explain the scope of the POA.
Moreover, it is the duty of an agent to always act within the best interests of the principal. Usually, POAs are in place as the principal is somewhat incapacitated and cannot make and understand the outcome of their decisions themselves. Therefore, the attorney-in-fact must act responsibly and in a way that is fair. As such, signing a power of attorney on a transaction that benefits the agent could raise questions even if the power of attorney signature has been formatted and written correctly. Violation of the duty to care for the principal could also result in a criminal or civil lawsuit being filed. For this reason, consulting a lawyer in transactions where the agent will benefit is recommended.
It should be noted that in no cases will an attorney-in-fact continue to have responsibility for the principal’s decisions after death. Any case in which an agent attempts to use a POA after death is prohibited by U.S. law and will result in a legal battle.
Acting as power of attorney on behalf of another person does carry high levels of responsibility. As the agent, using their power and authority incorrectly could result in a criminal or civil lawsuit. However, if you ensure you understand the authority given in the POA and always act within the principal’s best interests, then signing a power of attorney is easy. Follow these steps on how to sign as attorney-in-fact and the agreement should always be accepted by the institution in question.