A dual power of attorney or joint power of attorney is a legal document that gives rights and power to two named persons. These persons are referred to as agents or attorneys-in-fact, and they have the right to manage the financial affairs or make health care decisions for the principal, the person who grants them their authority and rights. The powers are shared by both agents, and they can both exercise their powers at the same time. Any documents executed on behalf of the agent must be co-signed by both agents, and financial decisions must be agreed upon by both. Family members such as siblings or spouses are often designated as agents in a dual power of attorney, but professionals may also act as joint agents to prevent one individual from breaching his or her fiduciary duties.
The requirement that both agents agree to all decisions made on behalf of the principal can be problematic. There is no third agent to break the tie and choose one decision over another. As a result, a dual power of attorney can be written to allow agents to act independently. The principal has to expressly state that the agents can act on their own, and it may involve delineating specific powers for each agent. The agents still remain jointly responsible to the principal, but each has the freedom to exercise control over his or her assigned financial or health care matter.
Joint agents of a dual power of attorney are jointly responsible for carrying out their duties. When they are allowed to act independently, they are jointly and severally responsible. That means that if a court holds them liable for breach of fiduciary duty and awards damages to a plaintiff bringing an action, each agent must pay a share or the entire damage award.
Dual agents often have the same powers as those named in a single power of attorney. They may be authorized to convey legal title to property, negotiate and enter into contracts, and make payments to creditors. For example, agents may sell real estate investments owned by the principal as part of a strategy to pay for the immediate needs of the principal. A medical dual power of attorney grants rights to the agents to make medical decisions on behalf of the principal. Such rights may include consent to medical treatment to be performed on the principal, the right to apply for and obtain medical benefits, and the right to hire health professionals to care for the principal.