Understanding the Scope of a Florida Power of Attorney
A power of attorney can be broad or limited in its scope. In other words, you may use a power of attorney to authorize someone to act as your agent only for certain specified matters. Conversely, you can sign a more general power of attorney that allows your agent to make pretty much any decision that you could otherwise make for yourself.
It is also important to note that there are different types of powers of attorney. For example, a health care surrogate is, as the name suggests, someone authorized to make decisions related to your health care. Such a document does not, however, necessarily permit the agent to make other business or legal decisions for you.
Court: Health Care Surrogate Not Authorized to Sign Arbitration Agreement
This is a critical distinction, as discussed in a recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, Manor Oaks, Inc. v. Campbell. This case actually addresses a nursing home’s alleged role in the death of a former resident. The decedent’s estate sued the nursing home in Florida state court. The nursing home then moved to compel arbitration of the estate’s dispute, citing an arbitration clause contained in the admission paperwork signed by the decedent’s then-health care surrogate.
As the Fourth District explained, the health care surrogate document stated its authority was limited to “health care decisions.” The Court said this qualified as a “limited, rather than broad” grant of authority to the surrogate. Indeed, “The entire focus of the Document concerns matters pertaining to health care decisions” and not “business decisions regarding dispute resolution.” And given that Florida courts are required to “strictly” interpret a power of attorney to reflect the “intent of the drafter,” the Fourth District here concluded the health care surrogate was not authorized to sign an arbitration agreement on behalf of the decedent or her estate.
The appeals court noted this interpretation was consistent with the provisions of the Florida Statutes governing health care advance directives. State law defines a “health care decision” to encompass matters such as granting or withholding consent to medical procedures, applying for benefits to pay for medical care, and the decision to make anatomical gifts. Nothing in the statute, however, states a health care decision covers “the ability to determine the forum in which disputes arising from health care decisions are to be resolved.” Put another way, an arbitration agreement is unrelated to the actual provision or withdrawal of health care to an incapacitated patient.
Get Advice from a Florida Estate Planning Attorney Today
You should never sign any health care surrogate or power of attorney without carefully reviewing all of its terms. The wrong language may end up granting your agent more power than you intended–and by the time something goes wrong, it will be too late for you to do anything about it. That is why you should work with an experienced Fort Myers estate planning lawyer. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free confidential consultation with a member of our estate planning team.