Changes to the Wisconsin Power of Attorney Law

August 9, 2010

Recently a number of changes to Wisconsin’s Power of Attorney (POA) law passed through the Wisconsin Legislature. A durable power of attorney is a broad grant of power authorizing an agent to conduct financial affairs in an individual’s name. The term “durable” means an individual’s delegation of authority to their agent will remain effective if one should become incompetent through illness or accident. Without a power of attorney, an incapacitated individual cannot carry out transactions except through a court-appointed guardian. However, this route is generally more time consuming and costly than executing a general durable power of attorney.

Wisconsin’s 2009 changes to the Power of Attorney law are designed to make drafting and executing POAs simpler and to alleviate some of the difficulty and distress involving touchier areas of POA rules. The new statutory-form power of attorney clarifies that:

  • Only a principal, not the agent, needs to sign the POA for it to be valid. The agent must also accept by signing the document, agreeing orally or through actions (such as using the POA)
  • After the completion of a divorce or the termination of a certified domestic partnership, a POA with the spouse/partner as the agent will be automatically invalid
  • The new POA law does not render an old POA invalid provided it was validly executed
  • Photocopies, emailed versions or scanned copies are as legally enforceable as the original copy of a POA
  • A POA becomes effective immediately
  • An agent who is not the principal’s spouse/domestic partner may not use the principal’s property for his or her own benefit
  • A POA is automatically durable unless otherwise stated
  • If an individual or institution (i.e. a bank) accepts a POA in good faith (i.e. everything seems to be in order) and later finds out the POA was actually invalid, they will not be held liable
  • If an individual or institution refuses to accept a POA, it also must be in good faith (a POA is legally enforceable, so businesses cannot demand that the principal fill out their specific form)
  • The word “disabled” is now replaced by the word “incapacitated”