You Can Just Say No: Declining to Act as an Agent Under a Power of Attorney

It’s a huge responsibility to act as an agent under a power of attorney, and it isn’t something everyone is able or willing to do. If someone names you as an agent in their power of attorney document, you can resign or refuse the position.

The main types of power of attorney are financial and medical, and agents act in place of the principal (the person executing the power of attorney) if and when that person becomes incapacitated.

If you are an agent under a financial power of attorney, it’s your job to take spending and investment measures that the principal would take. Although there may be specific limitations in the power of attorney document, you can typically open and withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, cash checks, and things of that nature. It’s also important that you keep good records.

With a medical power of attorney, you need to make medical decisions for the principal that you believe they would have wanted. You may need to make decisions regarding starting or stopping particular treatments, who to choose for medical care, or continuing or ending life support.

Although the agent isn’t liable for the principal’s bills, it’s still an enormous responsibility and it’s important to consider if you have the available time and energy to do this job as well as if it’s something you can handle emotionally. Not only is the job itself challenging, but it can be made even more difficult if there are family issues such as disagreements among siblings that you would also need to deal with as an agent under a power of attorney.

If serving as an agent isn’t something you want to do or would be able to do, it’s best to be honest about this with the person executing the power of attorney. It’s ok to tell them that you aren’t the best person to choose for this role. If you’ve already been appointed and then decide that you want to resign, there may be steps listed in the power of attorney document itself. If not, it’s best to write a letter of resignation and send it through certified mail to the individual who executed the power of attorney as well as to any co- or successor agents.

Things become more complicated if the person who executed the power of attorney is incapacitated. It’s best if successor agents are named in the power of attorney document so that that person can take over if you refuse the job. If no successor agents have been named, a guardian might need to be appointed for the principal. A family member or friend could petition the court for guardianship. In cases where no one is available to serve in this role, the principal may become a ward of the state.

If you have been named as an agent under a power of attorney but don’t want to take on this responsibility, an attorney can help you find the best way to refuse or resign from this role in the state in which you live.

For help with your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.