Rosenkrantz v. Feit, — So.3d —-, 2011 WL 6183525 (Fla. 3d DCA Dec 14, 2011)
As I reported here, on October 1, 2011 Florida overhauled its power of attorney (POA) statutory regime based in large part on the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. The new statute was supposed to clarify some of the ambiguities inherent to the old statute. Based on the 3d DCA’s observations in this case, the new statute appears to be delivering on this front.
Less ambiguity = greater certainty for anyone seeking legal advice about POA’s and what their rights, duties or obligations as an attorney-in-fact may be. Win, lose or draw, certainty in the law is always a good thing.
In this case an elderly mother executed a POA naming her two children as her co-attorneys-in-fact. As long as everyone does their part, naming two children in your POA as co-attorneys-in-fact is OK and done all the time. Unfortunately, in this case one of the siblings (Sister) believed her brother was improperly blocking her attempts to account for their mother’s assets. What to do? Given the ambiguities inherent to the old statute, the answer was unclear. Bottom line, Sister was compelled to invest valuable time and money into filing a declaratory judgment action just to figure out who was supposed to do what under her mother’s POA. On appeal, the legal issue was whether a declaratory judgment action was appropriate in this case. The 3d DCA said yes. The 3d DCA then went out of its way to point out how the ambiguities giving rise to Sister’s declaratory judgment action in the first place have now been largely resolved by our new POA statutory regime. Less ambiguity = greater certainty = less time and money wasted on declaratory judgment actions. That’s a good thing.
Here’s an excerpt from the 3d DCA’s opinion:
Gertrude Feit executed a Durable Power of Attorney when she began having memory loss. Gertrude named her daughter, Rosenkrantz, and her son, James Feit, as attorneys-in-fact to oversee her financial affairs. Gertrude and James live in Miami–Dade County, Florida. Rosenkrantz, who lives in New York, alleges that her brother refuses fully to account for their mother’s assets, and objects to her efforts to obtain information directly from the financial institutions. Rosenkrantz contends that James’ actions impair her ability to carry out her responsibilities as a co-attorney-in-fact, and she is in doubt as to her rights under the power of attorney.
Rosenkrantz thus sought declaratory relief to determine: 1) the extent to which she can, as a co-attorney-in-fact, act without the concurrence of a co-attorney who may be acting in derogation of his fiduciary duty; and 2) whether she, as one co-attorney, is entitled to an accounting from the other co-attorney. If the allegations are proven as pled, it is clear that Rosenkrantz acted properly and prudently in seeking to fulfill her fiduciary role.FN2 . . .
FN2. It should be noted that the Florida Legislature addressed these very issues in its 2011 revisions to Chapter 709. Among the several significant changes, the new statutory scheme provides:
— A principal may designate two or more persons to act as co-agents, and unless the power of attorney otherwise provides, each co-agent may exercise its authority independently. § 709.2111(1), Fla. Stat. (2011).
— If a power of attorney requires that two or more persons act together as co-agents, one or more of the agents may delegate to a co-agent the authority to conduct banking transactions pursuant to the power of attorney. § 709.2111(6).
— An agent may be required by a co-agent to disclose receipts, disbursements, or transactions conducted on behalf of the principal. § 709.2114(6).
— An agent (including a co-agent) may petition a court to construe or enforce a power of attorney, review the agent’s conduct, terminate the agent’s authority, remove the agent, and grant other appropriate relief. § 709.2116(1).
— An agent’s exercise of power may be challenged in a proceeding brought on behalf of the principal on the grounds that the exercise of the power was affected by a conflict of interest. § 709.2116(4).