Understanding Tenant’s Power of Attorney

by Janet Portman, Inman News
Law booksQ: I have a durable power of attorney for finances for my sister. She is ill and in the hospital, and will go to a convalescent center after that. I need to get into her apartment to get her safe deposit box key and other important things. But her landlord won’t let me in, even after I’ve explained who I am. What can I do? –Kathy B.

A: As the holder of your sister’s durable power of attorney for finances, you have the right to act on her behalf when it comes to managing her finances if she becomes incapacitated. This includes paying bills, making bank deposits, watching over investments, collecting insurance or government benefits, and handling other money matters on your sister’s behalf.A “durable” power takes effect as soon as you both sign it (though of course you wouldn’t use it until you need to). Sometimes people prefer to make the power of attorney take effect only when a doctor certifies that the person making the document is incapacitated; these are called “springing” durable powers of attorney because they spring into effect once the maker is incapacitated.

Check your document to see if it requires a doctor to certify that your sister is in fact incapacitated. If so, you are dealing with a springing document, which means you’ll need to give it to her doctor and request written certification of incapacity. Take the document itself (plus the certification, if you’re dealing with a springing power) to the landlord. The document should look rather formal (it will have a notary’s seal).

Also bring a copy of the document to leave with the landlord. (The landlord may want to show it to a lawyer.) You might also bring some explanatory material that will help the landlord understand the purpose of the document and feel comfortable honoring it. (You can get state-specific explanations of powers of attorney from this site.) Hopefully, this will convince the landlord that you have the legal right to enter.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at [email protected].
Copyright 2009 Janet Portman


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