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#DYK: A Power of Attorney Ends When You Die

POA and hourglass: #DYK: A Power of Attorney Ends When You Die

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that provides very specific authorization to allow someone to act on your behalf. It is a critical tool that provides another designated person the legal right to make decisions on your behalf. Often we’re asked, How long does a Power of Attorney last in the state of Florida? Many people do not realize that a POA only applies during your lifetime. Your appointed Power of Attorney ends when you die. This is a standard rule that applies to all types of Power of Attorneys, including durable POAs, throughout the United States. What does that mean for your decisions?

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A Power Of Attorney Ends When You Die: No POA Is Valid After Death

When you die, any Power of Attorney put into place in Florida or anywhere prior to your death automatically ends. There are many types of Power of Attorneys, giving you the ability to make big decisions about how just about everything that is important to you will be managed if you are ill, traveling or temporarily unavailable. Yet, no matter the type of POA, they do not remain in place after you die.

In other words, a Power of Attorney is only valid during a person’s lifetime. It provides no legal support or guidance to your family or the law after your death. The document only provides the named party with the ability to make decisions on behalf of the other party during their lifetime. Once you die, the document is null and void.

What Happens After You Die?

When you die, your estate goes through distribution and often Probate court. Any Power of Attorney ends when you die. Prior to distribution and Probate, your estate is frozen, meaning that no one can access your assets or make any decisions for your estate for you until the Estate Planning Attorney, Executor or the court determines who should do that.

Consider what this may mean.

Perhaps you assigned your daughter to be your Power of Attorney. You trust your daughter to make decisions for you about your health, financial needs and obligations during your lifetime. Then, you die. The Power of Attorney is null and void at that moment.

Now, your estate is locked up until the court can determine what to do with it based on your heirs. If you do not have a Will or Trust, the court makes all decisions for you or will appoint an Executor to handle the process for you. Without a Will, this is not someone you choose but one that the court appoints.

Even though your daughter may have done everything for you during your lifetime with your authorized POA, the court may elect to appoint an ex or perhaps even another child or another person instead of your daughter. That person now has the legal right to make any and all decisions about your assets and the estate in general. Because this may not be what you wanted, you should create a legal framework to continue with the decision-making in a way that fits your choices and goals.

This legal framework is your Estate Plan. 

Having a Will or Trust Provides a Guideline

A Power of Attorney authorizes decision-making in your lifetime. However, you can use a legally binding Estate Plan to name a person or people to act for you once you die. That means you can take the time to set up a Will that names your daughter the person who will manage your Estate and the Probate process. You can choose whoever you desire to hold this position.

Who Will the Court Choose If You Don’t Have An Estate Plan In Place?

If you do not have a Will, Trust or other Estate Plan in place when you die, then you leave all of the decision-making in the hands of the judge, who probably does not know you or your circumstances, wishes or needs. Instead, the court appoints the “next of kin” or an appropriate person to settle your estate. The court will name the administrator of your Will. This person will make decisions.

The Executor/administrator is tasked with the entire process to determine how to pay all of your bills, how to divide assets and how to manage any claims against you. Without a Will or Estate Plan in place, a family member or court-chosen representative is appointed and must agree to accept the role.

In all of these situations, the administrator is not someone you selected. They are someone that the court chooses. That means you do not have a voice in ensuring that your goals and wishes are followed.

Can a Financial POA Gain Access After Death?

It may seem somewhat frustrating that your trusted Financial Power of Attorney has no right to act on your behalf after your death. There are several ways that this person could continue to support you, including:

  • If you named the financial Power of Attorney as the Executor of your Will formally.
  • The person was named as a beneficiary or a joint owner on one or more of your accounts.
  • Your POA agent petitions the court to request to be assigned as Executor of the Estate (this does not mean the court must agree to this appointment).

The good news is that the solution is simple. You can elect to have anyone you wish named your Power of Attorney during your lifetime. You can change this as often as you like. It can be anyone you decide.

However, do not stop there. Ensure that you go one step further and create a Will and Estate Plan that names specific people to handle these tasks after your death. With a carefully crafted Will or Trust in place, when your appointed POAs become void because Power of Attorney ends when you die, you can be assured that your legacy and your loved ones will be protected without relying on the court to make the right decisions.

It does not take long to set up a Will. Once in place, it can provide you with the peace of mind you need during this very difficult situation.

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Call THE South Florida Estate Planning Attorneys – The Siegel Law Group

Having a Power of Attorney during your lifetime is often a good decision to plan for the unexpected. It allows you to decide who makes big financial, legal and medical decisions for you when you cannot do so. You may have been unaware that your Power of Attorney ends when you die. Therefore, you also need to have an Estate Plan in place to protect what happens after death.

Call our Boca Raton office at 561-576-6206 to schedule a complimentary consultation, or submit our online contact form to schedule a consultation today. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

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