Can a Relative Sign a Contract For Me Without a Power of Attorney?
A Florida power of attorney means there is someone with the authority to act in your name should you be unavailable. Having a power of attorney is therefore crucial if there is any need to execute a contract on your behalf. After all, you cannot be legally obligated by a contract that neither you nor your authorized agent signed.
Court Rules No Valid Fee Agreement Between Attorney, Comatose Client
A Florida attorney learned this simple lesson in early April when a state appeals court held he did not have an enforceable agreement with a former client. Actually, whether or not the former client was technically a “client” was the substance of the dispute. At the time the client ostensibly hired the attorney, he was in a coma.
Here is briefly what transpired. The client was in a car accident. His injuries rendered him unconscious for several months. During the client’s incapacity, his mother actually hired the attorney to conduct personal injury litigation on his son’s behalf. The client had not previously signed a power of attorney, and no Florida court had appointed a legal guardian for him. So the mother had no legal authority to act on her son’s behalf.
Nevertheless, the attorney proceeded to work on the client’s personal injury case. After the client emerged from his coma, he signed a power of attorney naming his mother as agent. However, he decided not to retain the attorney and terminated his representation.
The attorney then sued demanding payment under the agreement signed by the mother. He argued the client had “ratified” the agreement after he came out of his coma and was therefore bound by it. The trial judge agreed with this reasoning, but the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal did not. The appellate court said ratification requires a “positive and explicit” act. Here, the attorney acknowledged the client never saw the contract that the mother signed. Nor did the attorney ask the client to sign a separate agreement retroactively ratifying the original contract. Given that there was “no evidence that [the client] had knowledge of the details of the contingent fee agreement signed by his mother,” there was no basis for concluding ratification occurred.
That said, the Fourth District said the attorney was still entitled to compensation for the work he performed prior to the client’s termination. But such compensation would have to be made in accordance with common law principles and should take into account the “circumstances under which” the attorney represented the client, including the fact that “time was of the essence in commencing a legal claim” for the client’s personal injury case.
Get a Florida Power of Attorney Today?
This case offers yet another illustration of why you do not just need to have a power of attorney, but a durable power of attorney that continues in effect during your incapacity. A qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney can advise you on this and related subjects. Call the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 to schedule a consultation with a member of our estate planning team today.