Congratulations to Attorney Kendra McGuire on her win in In re: Weidner, 2007 WL 4555334.  The PA Supreme Court struck down the Superior Court’s restrictions on agents acting under powers of attorney and limitations on power of attorney documents.  See Kendra’s commentary and analysis by clicking here.  In her words:

"Attempts to interpret power of attorney documents in such limited ways have been litigated repeatedly with the Superior Court applying very limited interpretations of documents and the Supreme Court confirming time and time again that power of attorney documents must be interpreted broadly. Kudos to the Supreme Court for grasping the implications of this issue, as it effects all of those, and there are many, who act under these power of attorney documents."

The attorney-in-fact in this case changed the beneficiary on the principal’s life insurance policy.  The clear holding of the Supreme Court is that the power of attorney document expressly incorporated the Powers of Attorney statute and the general language shows the principal’s intent to empower the agent to do any or all of the things permitted by the statute, which includes engaging in insurance transactions.  Said the Court: "[W]e hold the power of attorney at issue was sufficient to empower [the agent] to change the beneficiary of the life insurance policy."  The case was remanded for consideration of two other issues:

  • Should the trial court have considered only whether the power of attorney
    authorized the attorney-in-fact to change beneficiaries under insurance
    policies, and declined to consider the principal’s expressed intent regarding
    the particular beneficiary designation under the life insurance policy at
    issue, or whether a breach of fiduciary duty by the attorney-in-fact would
    void the change of beneficiary by the attorney-in-fact, even if the power of
    attorney authorized the type of transaction generally?
  • Do the pleadings establish that the principal intended to authorize the
    attorney-in-fact to change the principal’s named beneficiary during the
    principal’s lifetime without any notice of the principal?

Do you think an agent can change the principal’s beneficiaries?