Bill to amend Pa. Power of Attorney Act voted out of committee, moves to full House

By Jon Campisi | Jun 14, 2013

State legislators this week unanimously voted to move a bill that would amend

State legislators this week unanimously voted to move a bill that would amend

Pennsylvania’s Power of Attorney Act out of committee.

The House Judiciary Committee’s action on June 11 means House Bill 1429 would go to the full House for consideration.

The measure, sponsored by Republican State Rep. Mark Keller, who represents Perry and Franklin Counties in south-central Pennsylvania, would address perceived problems in the state law that have arisen out of a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that have the potential to increase liability for third parties, including family members, lawyers or banks, when they accept powers of attorney in good faith, according to Keller’s office.

Under state law, those granted power of attorney to act on others’ behalf may give away property, acquire real estate, and authorize medical treatment.

The state Supreme Court decision referenced by Keller in his proposal to amend the Power of Attorney Act involved a woman hurt in a vehicle accident whose husband was given power of attorney, which he used to make a pension decision, according to Keller’s office.

The Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System, or PSERS, had subsequently claimed third-party immunity and denied the injured woman’s request for relief.

The wife had argued that the power of attorney was invalid because she lacked capacity at the time the document was executed.

The high court, however, ultimately ruled that the state’s retirement system was not protected from liability.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Vine v. Commonwealth means a third party involved in a power of attorney case could be at risk unless the power of attorney is determined to be valid and the agent is authorized, Keller’s office stated.

“As a result of the high court’s decision, family members may experience difficulties when seeking to assist elderly and disabled relatives by becoming their agent through the power of attorney,” Keller said in a statement. “My bill puts those concerns to rest and allows them to focus on providing help to their loved one.”

The lawmaker stated that his proposal would provide that a third party who accepts a power of attorney in good faith without actual knowledge that the document is invalid can rely upon that power of attorney.

“In addition, the bill contains a mechanism for the third party to request additional assurance, in the form of a certification or an opinion of counsel, that the power of attorney is valid,” Keller’s statement reads.

The Language in Keller’s proposal is largely based on language in the Uniform Power of Attorney Act drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law, which has been adopted by 13 states since its introduction in 2006, according to the representative’s office.

Keller sponsored a similar measure during the 2011-12 session, but it died when it reached the state Senate.

In his May 16 sponsorship memo circulated to fellow House members, Keller wrote that under current state law, a person who is given instructions by an agent in accordance with the provisions of a power of attorney must comply with those instructions, and that a person who acts in good faith reliance on the power of attorney incurs no liability as a consequence of acting in accordance with the instructions of the agent.

“Hence, there is statutory immunity afforded to third parties who act on instructions of an agent,” Keller’s memo stated.

In its decision in Vine v. Commonwealth, Keller wrote, the high court interpreted the present statute in a way that did not immunize a third party, PSERS, when it was presented with what it thought to be a valid power attorney.

Keller’s previous similar measure that didn’t pass during the 2011-12 legislative session was H.B. 1905.

It was not yet clear when the full House would take up the latest proposal.

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