A New York Power of Attorney Can Be Used to Amend a Trust

New York Estate Lawyers assist their clients with many types of estate planning documents such as Last Wills, Living Wills, Health Care Proxy’s, Living Trusts and Powers of Attorney.

All of these papers are generally created to work together so that a person’s estate plan and lifetime directives are clear and can be followed without complication or estate litigation. A New York Statutory power of attorney empowers the appointed attorney-in-fact to make decisions regarding various types of matters such as business or real estate matters. A power of attorney is a lifetime directive and the authority granted by the power ends at the time of a person’s death. However, decisions and actions made by the attorney-in-fact can have significant consequences after the death of the principal. For example, when an attorney-in-fact executes a deed transferring real estate, or transfers assets in various bank or brokerage accounts, during the lifetime of the principal, provisions that were made in Last Wills or Trusts may no longer be effective. This is because the assets that were meant to be transferred by such testamentary documents may not be owned by the testator in the manner anticipated when the estate plan was created.

Another potential problem is that the attorney-in-fact may use the power of attorney to amend or change some of the estate planning documents such as a Trust Agreement. This was the situation encountered by the Court in Perosi v. LiGreci, decided by the Appellate Division, Second Department on July 11, 2012. In Perosi, Mr. LiGreci had created, during his lifetime, an irrevocable trust and appointed his brother as trustee. LiGreci also created a power of attorney appointing his daughter as attorney-in-fact. Shortly before LiGreci died, his daughter used her authority under the power of attorney to amend the trust and designate the daughter’s son as the new trustee.

The Court ultimately found that the attorney-in-fact had the authority, in this instance, to amend the trust.

In view of the Perosi case, it is clear that naming a person as attorney-in-fact in a power of attorney requires serious consideration. Estate settlement and administration can be compromised by the actions of an attorney-in-fact who has the authority to change estate planning documents. It is a good idea to put precise language into trusts and other agreements defining to what extent, if any, an attorney-in-fact can amend or change these papers.

Individuals expend a great deal of time and expense in planning their estates through the use of Wills and Trusts. It is unfortunate where the actions of a lifetime attorney-in-fact can result in Surrogate’s Court litigation because these documents were changed without the testator or creator him or herself signing the amendatory papers.

A complete review by a qualified New York estate attorney is imperative so that a person’s intentions regarding estate distribution is set forth and can be implemented without modification or confusion.

New York City Trusts and Estates Lawyer Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. He is available to help residents in many areas, including the Bronx, and Westchester counties. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation or e-mail me at jules.haas@verizon.net.

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