LIEB BLOG

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

New York is Really Tired of Banks and Title Companies Not Accepting Powers of Attorney

Governor Cuomo has signed into a law Assembly Bill A5630A which aims to simplify the statutory short form power of attorney and increase its acceptance by third parties (looking at you title insurers and banks). 

Previously, a power of attorney could be void because it did not contain the "the exact wording of the form set forth in Section 5-1513". This strict language caused many third parties relying on the form to refuse to honor powers of attorney not prepared using their own templates out of fear that the form they were unfamiliar with had a small technical error rendering it invalid. 

Now, a power of attorney is valid so long as it "substantially conforms to the form required pursuant to Section 5-1513" even if it contains insignificant mistakes in "wording, spelling, punctuation, or formatting, or the use of bold or italic type... or uses language that is essentially the same as, but not identical to, the statutory form." Even more, "failing to include clauses that are not relevant to a given power of attorney shall not in itself cause such power of attorney to be found to not substantially conform with the requirements of such form." Long story short, the statute now gives much more leeway in the preparation of the form, hopefully avoiding the voiding of powers which in all fairness should have been valid for the purpose intended. 

To promote acceptance of more powers of attorney, the new bill bakes in protections for third parties relying upon powers, as well as penalties for third parties that unreasonably reject powers. 

Section 5-1504 of the General Obligations Law is amended to contain a presumption that a duly acknowledged (notarized) power of attorney is genuine and valid. It also is amended to provide for a mechanism to release a third party relying upon a power of attorney from liability after reasonable acceptance. The third party may "request, and rely upon, without further investigation" (1) an agent's certification under penalty of perjury any factual matters relating to the power and (2) an opinion of counsel (from the principal is fine) as to any matter of law concerning the power. There are strict time limits (10 business days) in which the third party must reject a power of attorney together with a written explanation given to the principal and agent, and then either reject or honor the power after receipt of written explanation received from the agent/principal (7 business days). Most importantly, if the agent receives an acknowledged affidavit from the agent stating that the power is in full force and effect, the third party must accept the power of attorney except for reasonable cause, which is enumerated in the statute. If the third party and agent/principal follow all the steps in this dance, the "third party shall be held harmless from liability for the transaction." 

But what if your bank or title insurer still won't accept your power of attorney? A special proceeding may be commenced against the third party refusing to honor the power, awarding damages (including reasonable attorney's fees and costs) if the third party acted unreasonably in refusing to honor the power of attorney. 

Time will tell if these changes, coupled with the elimination of the statutory gift rider, will result in more widespread use and acceptance of powers of attorney. Banks and title insurers are notorious for avoiding risk when it comes to the use of powers of attorney and the State's attempts to promote their acceptance has bordered on Sisyphean. 




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