Written by: Robert A. Stewart, Esq.

Recently, a friend who lives in New Jersey called and asked me “how can I revoke a Power of Attorney?”  It so happens that this seems to be an increasingly common question as people are now living longer and revisiting planning decisions they made fifteen or twenty years ago.

Before I describe how I answered the question, let me remind everyone that a durable power of attorney is a critically important estate planning document because it allows you to decide who will be able to handle your financial affairs if you cannot. Specifically, it is a written document by which an individual – called the principal –  grants the authority to one or more other individuals – called the agent or attorney-in-fact – to perform specified acts on behalf of the principal whether or not the principal is physically or mentally incapacitated.

If you do not have a Power of Attorney and become unable to manage your financial affairs, it may become necessary for a court to appoint a “guardian” to handle your finances. Your court-appointed guardian may not be the person you would have chosen and will have whatever powers the court gives them.  So, having a Power of Attorney enables you to choose the person you think is best suited to step-in for you in the event of your incapacity. It allows you to decide, while you are competent, not only who that person will be, but what powers they will have.

In response to my friend’s question, I had to first ask if he had given the actual written and signed Power of Attorney document to his Agent, who happened to be his brother. And he responded “no” but had given him a copy. I then told my friend that he needed to notify his brother in writing that he was revoking the Power of Attorney. The revocation should include his name, a statement that he is of sound mind, and clearly state the intention to revoke the Power of Attorney. The written revocation should also specify the date the original Power of Attorney was signed by the principal and identify the person selected as the agent. The written notification must be sent to the person named as the agent and in some instances to any institutions or agencies that have a copy of the Power of Attorney.

In addition to the written notice of revocation, a new Power of Attorney document will have to be prepared if my friend wants to appoint a different person as his agent and that document will typically include a provision stating that  all prior Powers of Attorney are revoked.

Please contact me or one of our estate planning attorneys if we can be of any assistance in helping you with your estate planning needs.