Thursday, October 4, 2018
I teach contract law and I teach elder law, and often those silos overlap. But recently someone asked me whether a "power of attorney" was a contract. Somehow I had not not considered this topic before. My first reaction was "no, not usually," although certainly POAs have contract-like implications once the agent takes action using the POA as authority. I tend to think of POAs and similar appointments of an agent as bound by rather distinct "fiduciary law" obligations, as well as the limitations of the language in the POA itself and any statutory law, rather than traditional contract law principles. But perhaps my first instinct is wrong. One significance of categorization is when determining what statutes of limitation applies to any violation. It turns out the issue usually arises in the context of liability for allegations of misuse of authority.
What do you think? At least one court believes POAs are contracts, at least for purposes of applying principles of interpretation. A Court of Appeals opinion notes, when deciding whether family-member agents had authority to "self-deal" when handling real estate transactions in the name of the principal, that "Because a power of attorney is a contract, we interpret its provision pursuant to the rules of contract interpretation. . . . " See Noel v. Noel, 225 So. 3d 1114, 1117(Louisiana Ct. of Appeals, 2017).
For additional perspectives see the discussion of the Alabama Supreme Court, including the dissent, in Smith v. Wachovia Bank, 33 So. 3d 1191, 1202 (Ala. 2009).