Q: Can a power of attorney act on an IRA or Trust Account?

A: Yes, but only if the power of attorney (POA) agreement permits it.

The extent of an agent’s authority to act under a POA agreement will always depend on the language within the agreement.

Wisconsin’s Uniform Power of Attorney for Finances and Property Act under Chapter 244 governs POA agreements in Wisconsin. Chapter 244 provides for general authority with respect to banks and other financial institutions. One general power granted under statute permits an agent certain actions on an account. Account is a defined term under Wis. Stat. 705.01(1). That definition is broad enough to include an IRA.

For a trust account, an additional consideration to make is that of granting authority. A trust is a separate legal entity from an individual, meaning it has its own interests and authorities distinct from that of an individual person. A power of attorney agreement creates authority between a principal (the person granting authority) and an agent (the person granted authority). A POA agreement giving authority to act on the finances of a natural person principal does not automatically mean the agent can act on accounts owned by a trust, even if the principal is a trustee of the trust. Because a trust account has its own authority and ownership interests, the principal must grant an agent authority to act through their powers as trustee. Authority to do so is derived from the trust agreement.

If a financial institution is unsure about its interpretation of the scope of an agent’s authority within a POA agreement, WBA recommends working with an attorney to receive a legal opinion.