Powers of Attorney and Apostilles in Mexico

Ian and Dianne from Albuquerque New Mexico ask:

Hi Angel, 

We purchased a home in Mexico going on two years ago and we are so pleased. Literally the best move we have ever made. Yay for us! I should mention that we made this decision pre-COVID-19 and were counting on our home selling back in New Mexico for further resources, i.e., our retirement funds.

The home in the U.S. just sold and now the closing company is asking us to return to the U.S. for the closing. Eek!

We can receive a U.S. power of attorney from them to run the closing for us, but they need the documents notarized. Our understanding is that this can only be done at the American Embassy or American Consulate, which are hours away from us driving.

We want to close on the home, but we don’t want to travel and don’t know how to get around this obstacle. Help, please! Thank you!

Angel responds:

Hello Ian and Dianne,

Since COVID-19, the availability of the U.S. embassy and consulate services has been limited to emergencies and selling a home does not fall under the eyes of the U.S. representatives abroad. Other guest community necessities that do not fulfill emergency status include, for example, probate, court settlements, insurance claims.

However, you can have a certified translator translate the closing documents and then take them to a Mexican Notario who can notarize your signature (called ratificación, in Spanish). After the signature is ratified, the documents can be taken to your state capital for the application of an Apostille seal, which under the Hague Convention Act makes the document legally recognizable in another country.

While all this may seem extremely cumbersome, any good full-service law firm in Mexico can do all this for you in about five working days. And while more expensive than a U.S. notary stamp, it will get you your closing capital without having to leave the country.

• The Hague Apostille is a document verifying the authenticity of the document it accompanies. Physically, it is an independent sheet attached to the public document and that shows the signature and seal that guarantees its legality. This simplified method of legalization was introduced by the Hague Convention on October 5, 1961.

Gary and Linda from Tucson, Arizona, write:

Hola Angel, We are living in Puerto Escondido and our question is about Powers of Attorney here in Mexico. Both Linda and I have heard the horror stories and seen enough movies to be “cautious” about issuing one here. We would essentially like our home manager to be able to act on our behalf for “light” issues, such as changing our names on the electric bill, paying bills, or even helping with our building permit for the remodel we have planned. What we don’t want obviously is our home sold out from under us, or our bank accounts emptied.

Our examples of what we don’t want are extreme, and we love Alfredo, our manager, and don’t expect any issues. But you know the saying, “better safe than sorry.” Any advice you can share is greatly appreciated.

Angel responds:

Hola, Gary and Linda,

Thank you both for your question today as it’s an important one. The first thing you always need to do with powers of attorney is make sure the one being prepared for you matches your needs and does not exceed them. 

Second, powers of attorney here in Mexico are divided into two categories. First is the simple power of attorney that can be drawn up by an attorney and signed with two witnesses present, which becomes valid for simple acts of administration such as changing names on a bill or an address change.

Then there exists the Notarial power of attorney, which must be written by an attorney and issued by a Mexican Notario, who will register it with the public registry. These powers of attorney can be given for administrative acts, medical acts, legal representation before municipal, state, or federal authorities, criminal defense, and, when specifically identified with “special powers,” can be used for soliciting titles of credit, banking, and even the transmission of real property.

In general, a power of attorney has a shelf life of five years, though you can reduce the life of the power of attorney to a year or less, if you so choose.

You are correct that historically many events and transgressions have transpired due to the ample powers that can be given “unintentionally” with a power of attorney. To protect yourself, always hire attorneys that have a full grasp of your native language and understand completely your goals for the power of attorney. Also, always insist on an English copy to read before signing and do not sign until a certified translator is present to ensure that the Spanish version coincides exactly with the English version you are provided with.

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