Can a Felon Obtain a Power of Attorney?

By Heather Frances J.D.
Social workers can help inmates sign and send powers of attorney.

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Life goes on while a convicted felon serves his prison time, and family and friends on the outside may need to take care of affairs for the inmate while he is incarcerated. Some tasks require legal authority to act on the inmate's behalf. A power of attorney can give this legal authority, and a criminal conviction does not take away a person's ability to obtain such a document.

Functions of a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document in which the inmate, called the principal, gives authority for someone else, called the agent, to accomplish specific legal tasks on his behalf. Powers of attorney can be tailored to address nearly any situation, giving narrow or broad authority to the agent depending on the circumstances. Powers of attorney can address medical decisions as well as financial decisions, and even something as simple as authorizing the agent to pick up mail for the principal.

Power of Attorney Uses for Inmates

Powers of attorney can be especially useful for inmates because inmates are restricted from accessing many aspects of their life before prison. For example, a power of attorney, if necessary, can allow the inmate's spouse to enroll their children in school. Similarly, a power of attorney could allow a friend to access the inmate's bank account or sell his vehicle. Generally, powers of attorney should be as narrowly drafted as possible so the inmate does not give too much authority to his agent. It can be difficult for an inmate to monitor his agent's actions or keep the agent from taking advantage of the situation.

Capacity to Sign a Power of Attorney

An inmate does not lose his legal ability to sign a valid power of attorney just because he is incarcerated. To sign a power of attorney, an inmate must meet the same legal requirements as any other principal, meaning he must be an adult of sound mind. If the inmate has mental health challenges that make him unable to understand the document he is signing or its importance, he likely is not of sound mind and cannot legally sign a power of attorney. However, an offender is not considered to be of unsound mind simply because he has been convicted of a crime.

Inmate Access to a Power of Attorney

Although an inmate may have the legal ability to execute a power of attorney, practical aspects of getting a power of attorney signed can present a challenge. Documents sent to and from inmates are typically inspected thoroughly by prison staff to ensure they do not contain contraband or hidden messages. Prisons may have programs established to ease the transfer of important legal documents like powers of attorney, however. For example, Kansas prisons have a special procedure for allowing inmates to sign and transmit powers of attorney, including the requirement to obtain approval from the warden or his designee. Wardens may decide whether to allow the power of attorney based on the circumstances and the subject matter of the document. Inmates must check with the staff of their detention facility to determine what rules apply to them.

About the Author

Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.

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