Brooklyn and Nassau estate attorneys, as well as those assisting their clients throughout all parts of New York State, are often confronted with a myriad of issues relating to Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, Article 81 Guardianship and estate settlement.
In a typical situation, an individual may have prepared a Last Will while at the same time preparing a New York Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has previously discussed the importance of preparing advance directives such as a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy by which others can be appointed to handle a person’s property and health care issues in case of illness or incapacity.
All parties involved in these matters should be particularly aware that agents appointed in a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy have similar fiduciary duties to act appropriately as do Court appointed fiduciaries such as Article 81 Guardians and Executors and Administrators. In many instances, questionable conduct by these lifetime agents may end up being reviewed by a Court in a Guardianship Proceeding or in proceedings in the New York Surrogate’s Court after the appointing person dies. Issues regarding property transfers, expenditure of funds, and the change of names or beneficiaries on bank accounts, life insurance and retirement funds can result in disputes that overlap lifetime and post death periods.
A recent lawsuit entitled Kaufman v. Kaufman, in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, provides an excellent example of the problems and issues that can arise in these situations. Kaufman involved two brothers, Allen and Kenneth, both of whom were appointed as agents in a Power of Attorney by their father, Hyman. Allen and Kenneth were also Co-Trustees under family trusts. Hyman, who had suffered a brain injury, had been in a nursing home for a number of years.
Allen petitioned the Court for an accounting and requested among other things, that Kenneth be removed as attorney-in-fact under the power of attorney and as a trustee for violating his fiduciary duties. As recounted by the Court, Allen claimed that Kenneth was “refusing to share financial information, failing to provide a complete record of financial transactions, and using Hyman’s assets for personal and business purposes.”
Following a review of the parties assertions, Justice Donna Mills in a decision dated August 4, 2011, directed Kenneth to provide an accounting of his activities pursuant to New York General Obligations Law Section 5-1505. This Statute, entitled “Standard of Care: fiduciary duties; compelling disclosure of record”, requires in paragraph 2(3) an agent under a power of attorney “to keep a record of all receipts, disbursements, and transactions entered into by the agent on behalf of the principal and to make such record and power of attorney available to the principal or to third parties at the request of the principal”
It is apparent that issues involving fiduciary duties and the safeguarding or misuse of assets can overlap from the lifetime stage to a post death estate settlement controversy. Suppose Hyman had died prior to the resolution of the Supreme Court case. In such event, questions regarding the propriety of Kenneth’s acts might need to be resolved in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court as part of the administration of Hyman’s estate.
I have counseled clients, both fiduciaries and beneficiaries, in many situations similar to those raised in Kaufman. The appointment of lifetime agents, as well as executors and trustees, requires thorough consideration and the problems faced by the fiduciaries and those whose interests they are protecting can arise and require resolution in many different forums.