Can a Power of Attorney Make Themselves a Joint Owner of a Bank Account?

By River Braun, J.D.

Can a Power of Attorney Make Themselves a Joint Owner of a Bank Account?

By River Braun, J.D.

Whether a power of attorney can make themselves a joint owner of your bank account depends on the powers you grant them. When you give someone authority to act on your behalf under this type of legal document, this individual, also referred to as an agent, is legally bound to act in your best interest when undertaking such duties.

Young woman using a pen to point to a piece of paper that she is showing to an elderly woman

For example, if you give someone the power to pay bills from your bank account, depending on your bank's policies, along with state and federal laws, your agent may have access to it in order to carry out their function. Under these legal guidelines, they do not need to be a joint holder.

Limited vs. General

POAs may be granted on a limited or general basis. Under a limited power of attorney, you allow your agent to handle a specific task for a specified amount of time. For example, you can give them the ability to monitor your financial accounts and pay your bills while you are backpacking across Europe for three months. In contrast, giving someone general authority enables them to manage your overall affairs.

Depending on the language of the document itself, they may be able to sell your car to pay your bills, hire a housekeeper to clean your house, or buy stock. When it comes to accessing your bank accounts under either of these legal documents, your financial institution may require you to use their specific POA forms.

Power vs. Ownership

In this type of legal document, you are merely conveying power, and not ownership. Anything that your agent has access to is still your own, and they cannot use those funds or property for their own interests. Regardless of whether you use a limited or general POA, they are bound to you as a fiduciary. This means that they must act in your best interest when carrying out such duties. If, however, they fail to do this, you may sue for damages. They may even be held criminally liable if they steal money or property from you.

With that said, if they add their name as a joint holder and then use your money for their own purposes, the agent has violated their fiduciary duty and may be held criminally and civilly liable. In most cases, it is not necessary for them to be a joint owner on your bank account in order to pay your bills. Obviously, you can grant them the power to become one, but there are a couple of things to consider before doing so. First, every joint owner can use the funds for any reason, which defeats the purpose of the fiduciary relationship. And second, when one person dies, the remaining individual has full rights to the funds, regardless of whether you have made other arrangements under a will.

Most banks provide mechanisms by which you can grant an agent the authority to access and manage your funds, while still maintaining a fiduciary duty to you. Check with your bank before creating a POA to ensure your agent has the necessary access without creating an ownership situation. When crafting your own, think carefully about the powers you grant and be as detailed as possible in enumerating the powers you are giving to that person.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

Ready to appoint a power of attorney?

Get started now