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The Meaningless Power of Attorney

While my husband was deployed to Afghanistan, I decided, with his blessing, to get involved in a real estate transaction. I selected a reputable lender, mentioned that my husband was deployed and that I would be using my Power of Attorney. No problem, they're used all the time.

Paperwork was filled out, the loan was approved and an interest rate was locked in. I wanted a quick closing due to rising interest rates. I was told this wouldn't be a problem, but that I would need a "Specific" Power of Attorney which would reference the exact nature of the transaction. The Specific POA would need to be signed by my husband, notarized and sealed. Without speaking to my husband, I didn't foresee a problem, but I was wrong.

Conscious of the ticking clock, I was able to email the POA to my husband, so he retrieved it fairly quickly, but finding a notary public -- and a seal -- was a challenge. The notary was located, but he didn't have a seal. There was no seal to be found at the FOB.

I phoned the lender and explained the situation. Would the document be accepted without a seal? Maybe, maybe not. Once the underwriter examined the document, she would be able to give me an answer. No guarantees.

Mail going to Afghanistan seemed to reach my husband pretty quickly, but mail from Afghanistan could take as long as three weeks. This was going to be problem. It was unlikely that the POA would reach the lender in time for me to keep the interest rate that I had locked. We later found that we could ship the document via DHL, and pay an enormous sum, but we had no idea if the POA would be accepted without a notary seal once it was received.

I called my local JAG office to inquire if it were legal for a business to reject a POA and require something further. Yes, lenders are within their rights to require a Specific Power of Attorney and no, there was nothing I could do about it. It didn't matter that my husband was stationed in a dedicated combat zone where, understandably, it's a bit more difficult to have legal documents processed. JAG's advice was to seek a lender that didn't require a Specific Power of Attorney. So, start over? Not a good option. I called another lender, who required the same thing, and another. Furthermore, we were losing time, and interest rates were rising, which meant that we were losing money too.

My husband and I found ourselves incredibly frustrated over this process. We had no idea if we would be able to complete this transaction and if so, when? After much back and forth, we scrapped the entire transaction. Thankfully, this transaction wasn't something we had to do, it was merely something we wanted to do, but it opened my eyes to how meaningless my POA really was.

I felt stung by the entire process. I have never used my POA for anything other than registering a car and having taxes completed, so I had never fully tested its power. Turns out, it didn't have much power after all.

I realize that the lender wanted to protect itself from liability issues that could possibly arise from such a transaction. I also understand that some milspouses abuse the power their spouses transfer to them, which makes it more difficult for those of us who use it responsibly. However, from my perspective, my husband wouldn't have given me a POA if he didn't trust me to use it only when necessary, and in a manner that would benefit us.

To be fair, I'm quite sure this lender would have required the same thing from a civilian in my circumstance, and they were always courteous and polite when I spoke with them, but even so, I still felt that my husband and I were being penalized because he is in the military, and I felt that we were not being extended any consideration for our circumstances, circumstances that were extraordinary and beyond our control.

I've read some of your horror stories about Powers of Attorney, and how you too were denied the ability to conduct important business because your POAs were rejected. This is a big problem, now more than ever. Deployments are a constant these days. Our spouses may be deployed, but life goes on. Business needs to be conducted and things need to get done.

Each circumstance is unique, and each family has to make its own financial decisions, but if you are going to conduct any type of real estate transaction while your spouse is deployed, do your research upfront. Make sure that your lender is fully aware of your situation and that you are fully aware of their requirements. If you have questions, call your JAG office.   

My ordeal happened several months ago, but I'm still unhappy about it. I wonder how many military families have suffered because of similar situations? I wonder what this has cost military families in frustration, time and money? How many have been penalized because their Powers of Attorney were simply not good enough?

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