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

By Heather Frances J.D.

A power of attorney gives your agent – the person you name – the ability to do something for you, such as pay bills from your bank account or manage your investments. The agent’s ability to add his name to your bank account is subject to state and federal law as well as the language in the power of attorney document and the contract between you and your bank. Your agent’s ability to access your bank account on your behalf is different than creating a joint bank account.

General Versus Limited Powers

The power of attorney you grant to your agent may be general, which gives the agent a wide range of powers, or limited, granting only one or a few specific powers. Your bank may require a limited power of attorney that directly addresses your agent’s authority to access your accounts rather than a more general power of attorney. In addition, your bank may refuse to accept your power of attorney altogether, and some banks prefer that you use their power of attorney forms.

Agent’s Duty

Your agent has a fiduciary duty, which means he must act on your behalf in all matters designated in the power of attorney document. He must put your interests above his own. You can sue the agent if he violates this duty, and he can be held criminally liable if he steals from you.

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Ownership Rights

An agent acting under a power of attorney is merely your representative. A power of attorney does not give the agent ownership rights over any of your property, including bank accounts. Your agent is prohibited from using the money in your accounts for his own purposes. However, your agent may be entitled to reimbursement for necessary expenses incurred while acting on your behalf under the terms of the power of attorney.

Joint Account

An agent does not need to add his name to your account or otherwise create a joint account to act under a power of attorney, although you can authorize him to do so. A joint account gives both individuals named on the account – for example, you and your agent – ownership rights over the money in the account. Each joint owner can use the money in any manner desired, and when one owner dies, the other can gain full ownership of the account, regardless of what the deceased owner’s will might declare. If your agent creates a joint account, it can raise serious issues because he would be acting under a power of attorney but would also have ownership rights to the money in the account.

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How to Gain Access to Bank Accounts With a Power of Attorney
 

References

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Joint Account vs. Power of Attorney

When participating in estate planning, two devices that may be suggested to you are a joint account and power of attorney. Both require that you surrender some control over your assets and both allow you to limit the amount of a person’s access to specific assets. However, there are significant differences between the two. Before choosing any of these options when pursuing estate planning, consider what you are trying to achieve, because different options are better suited for different situations.

Can a Power of Attorney Take Money?

When you give someone a power of attorney to accomplish tasks on your behalf, you make that person your agent, and his actions have the same legal authority as if you had taken those same actions. For example, if you give your agent authority to access your bank accounts, he can take money from the account. However, your agent has a legal duty to act in your best interests, so he can’t use the money for his own benefit.

What Is Financial Power of Attorney Abuse?

When you, as a principal, create a power of attorney, you give your agent a significant amount of authority to conduct transactions on your behalf. Since your agent has so much authority, it may be easy for him to abuse the power of attorney to act in his own best interests rather than yours. However, state laws can provide protection against abuses, and you can incorporate safeguards into your power of attorney to help deter abuse.

Power of Attorney

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