Leaving South Africa for foreign climes, whether permanently or for an extended period, probably means leaving behind unfinished business or financial affairs, and/or property or other assets needing to be dealt with.
And whilst it is certainly possible for you to sign documentation, contracts and the like whilst in another country, the inconvenience and costs likely to be associated with the necessary authentication procedures – to meet local requirements – are avoidable.
We discuss what a power of attorney (POA) is, the difference between a “special” power of attorney and a “general” one, what they involve, why and when you should consider signing one (or several), and how to structure each one to be valid and fit-for-purpose.
If you are emigrating, or perhaps just going overseas for an extended holiday or work contract, you may well leave behind some form of “unfinished business”. Perhaps you own a property, other assets or bank accounts needing attention, or have outstanding tax/business/financial affairs, or contracts to be signed, cars to be licenced, or something else unresolved that requires your future agreement or signature. Even if you can’t think of anything specific, consider executing (before you leave of course) an appropriate power of attorney in favour of someone you trust to act for you.
What is a power of attorney?
A Power of Attorney (“POA”) a document you sign authorising someone else to manage your affairs on your behalf as your agent. You can grant it for a specific purpose as a “Special Power of Attorney” or it can be a widely worded “General Power of Attorney”. In theory you can grant power of attorney orally, but in practice no one will (or should) act on that.
You must be at least 18 years old to execute a POA, and it remains valid only for so long as you have “legal capacity”.
You can terminate the POA at any time.
Why is a power of attorney important?
You can in a pinch execute and sign contracts, legal forms and the like whilst in a foreign country, but it can be a real mission. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to find (and pay) a notary public or embassy/consular official to authenticate documents, your signature, copies of papers etc. If it’s an embassy or consulate you need, you could find yourself travelling to another city, perhaps even another country. And if everything isn’t done exactly right the first time (a particular risk if you are dealing with someone not fully versed in South African law and procedure), you could find yourself repeating the process – perhaps even more than once in a sort of “Ground Hog Day” scenario. All avoidable if you leave behind in South Africa a valid and correctly structured POA.
How should you structure it?
The structure you will need depends on what affairs you need dealt with and why. It can be difficult to decide whether a POA is appropriate for a particular purpose, and if so how wide or how restricted you should make the powers you are granting to your agent. It can also be a challenge to find the correct wording to satisfy the requirements of whichever authority or other party is involved – for instance, specific forms are required by the Deeds Office, SARS, and banks. You might also need to leave behind more than one POA, each structured for a particular purpose. Similarly, you may be uncertain as to who to appoint as your agent, who is best qualified for each purpose, even perhaps who can you trust to act professionally and honestly.
There is no prescribed form and no list of required formalities for a valid POA but there are many possible permutations and legal risks involved, so the only way to ensure that it is valid and fit-for-purpose is to seek professional assistance specific to your circumstances.