Legal Responsibilities of an Attorney-in-Fact: A Guide

When someone grants you power of attorney (POA), they are entrusting you with significant responsibilities. As an attorney-in-fact, you are legally obligated to act in the best interests of the person who granted you this authority, known as the principal. In this guide, we’ll explore the legal responsibilities of an attorney-in-fact, with a focus on the specific requirements in South Carolina.

What is Power of Attorney?

Power of attorney is a legal document that allows an individual (the principal) to appoint another person (the attorney-in-fact or agent) to act on their behalf in financial, legal, or medical matters. There are several types of POA, including:

  1. General POA: Grants broad authority to the agent to handle the principal’s affairs.
  2. Limited or Specific POA: Grants authority for a specific task or transaction.
  3. Durable POA: Remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated.
  4. Springing POA: This takes effect only when a specific event occurs, such as the principal’s incapacitation.

Fiduciary Duties of an Attorney-in-Fact

As an attorney-in-fact, you have a fiduciary duty to the principal. This means that you must act in good faith, with loyalty and care, and always in the principal’s best interests. Some specific fiduciary duties include:

  1. Acting within the scope of authority granted by the POA document.
  2. Keeping accurate records of all transactions and decisions made on behalf of the principal.
  3. Avoiding conflicts of interest and not using the principal’s assets for personal gain.
  4. Maintaining confidentiality of the principal’s personal and financial information.

Legal Responsibilities in South Carolina

In South Carolina, the legal responsibilities of an attorney-in-fact are governed by the South Carolina Uniform Power of Attorney Act. This act outlines specific duties and requirements for agents acting under a power of attorney South Carolina. Some key responsibilities include:

  1. Providing a copy of the POA document to third parties upon request.
  2. Notifying the principal promptly if the agent can no longer serve or if the POA is terminated.
  3. Cooperating with a monitor appointed by the principal to oversee the agent’s actions.
  4. Preserving the principal’s estate plan, if known, unless the POA document expressly permits modifications.

Liability for Misconduct

Under South Carolina law, an attorney-in-fact can be held liable for misconduct or breach of fiduciary duty. This includes:

  • Acting outside the scope of authority granted by the POA document.
  • Failing to act in the principal’s best interests.
  • Engaging in self-dealing or misappropriation of the principal’s assets.
  • Failing to keep accurate records or provide an accounting when requested.

If an agent is found to have engaged in misconduct, they may be subject to legal penalties, including restitution, fines, or even criminal charges in severe cases.

Best Practices for Attorneys-in-Fact

To fulfill your legal responsibilities and avoid potential liability, consider the following best practices:

  1. Thoroughly review the POA document to understand the scope of your authority.
  2. Keep detailed records of all transactions and decisions made on behalf of the principal.
  3. Communicate regularly with the principal, if possible, to ensure that your actions align with their wishes.
  4. Seek professional advice from an attorney or financial advisor when necessary to make informed decisions.
  5. Avoid mixing the principal’s assets with your own and maintain separate accounts.

When to Seek Legal Guidance

If you have any questions or concerns about your legal responsibilities as an attorney-in-fact, it’s essential to seek guidance from a qualified attorney. Some situations where legal advice may be particularly important include:

  1. If you are unsure about the scope of your authority under the POA document.
  2. If you suspect that the principal may be a victim of fraud, abuse, or undue influence.
  3. If you are faced with a complex financial or legal decision on behalf of the principal.
  4. If you are unable to fulfill your duties as an attorney-in-fact and need to resign.

An experienced attorney can help you navigate these challenges and ensure that you are meeting your legal obligations under South Carolina law.


Serving as an attorney-in-fact is a significant responsibility that should not be taken lightly. By understanding your legal duties, following best practices, and seeking guidance when necessary, you can effectively manage the principal’s affairs and protect their best interests. Remember, the power of attorney in South Carolina is a powerful tool that requires careful consideration and diligent execution to ensure the principal’s wishes are respected, and their assets are protected.