Now and again a client comes to us for information on a spouse’s assets. But if the client has already signed a power of attorney, the search could involve both spouses’ assets.
A power of attorney between married people could work like this: Wife grants Husband the power to buy and sell things on Wife’s behalf. This could result in more than just not being upfront about money Husband has put away or the value of Husband’s business interests. This could be Husband selling or mortgaging things Wife owns (or jointly owns).
If you are calling us about asset identification, you already may have questions about what’s going on behind your back. But if you have signed away your right to have a say over sales of your own joint property, then any doubt you have about getting a second look should evaporate.
We have nothing against powers of attorney. They are useful documents. But if a marriage is disintegrating and you can no longer trust the person granted the power of attorney, that person’s actions become especially suspect when he can take your property and do what he wants with it, without having to tell you about his actions.
These POA documents vary by state, and you can assign just one or many powers over your financial affairs. The New York form looks like this.
One story we like to tell is about a former client who had been pressured into giving not a power of attorney, but simply a signature sample to be notarized. She didn’t understand why her husband and his family were adamant that she provide the signature, but she provided it anyway.
Without even a power of attorney, the husband was able to sell their jointly-held property by convincing a lazy county clerk that the year-old signature from a different state was sufficient proof that she wanted to sell their property to his brother.
More recently, a client had signed a power of attorney because she was on an extended assignment overseas, but was unaware that her husband had sold their home. The funds he realized were somewhere, but he had a few months head start to hide them.
A Tough Question: When Did the Trust End?
Divorce asset hunting is an emotionally draining procedure for many, in part because it’s an acknowledgement that someone our client once loved may have deceived them. The big question is, when did the deceit start?
Sometimes an odd action in 2017, for example, could lead to the assumption that actions before 2017 are above suspicion. That’s a mistake, but it could be very difficult to some people to admit to themselves that they’ve been deceived not for four years, but perhaps for 10 years or longer.
Whenever anyone tells us they signed a power of attorney, we must assume that as of that date (and usually earlier), the other spouse’s actions need to be investigated.