Editor’s Synopsis: ERISA is a federal law that generally regulates employee welfare and retirement benefit plans. One of ERISA’s central purposes is to allow plan administrators to apply uniform laws of administration nationwide. In this Article, the relationship between ERISA and state power of attorney laws is examined, especially as it relates to clients of trust and estate attorneys. Specifically, the author seeks to address whether state law can compel a plan to accept the instructions of an attorney-in-fact.
The Article begins with overviews of powers of attorneys and ERISA preemption powers. It then addresses specific instances when ERISA completely preempts state powers of attorney laws and analyzes the potential effects of complete preemption. The Article then discusses policies that plans should adopt for accepting powers of attorney. The Article concludes that a participant’s use of a power of attorney to delegate investment discretion to someone who is not an investment manager as defined by ERISA would impermissibly conflict with ERISA, and that any state power of attorney law that would compel a plan to recognize such a delegation of authority is therefore pre-empted.
The need to have another handle your affairs when you cannot is age-old. As early as 561 BC, Itti-Nabu-Balatu was empowered to act in business for his brother, Belkishir.1 Today in every state, principals can delegate their authority to another using a state-law power of attorney. The question this Article addresses is whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)2 preempts state power of attorney laws.3