You may grant power of attorney to an individual who serves as an agent to handle your legal or financial affairs. You may also appoint someone to serve as an executor to handle the final disposition of your estate after you die. One person may serve both functions; however, there are differences between the two sets of duties.
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Power of Attorney
Someone who holds power of attorney is authorized by law to act as your agent to sign documents, access bank accounts and enter into binding contracts, according to the Free Legal Dictionary. Power of attorney may be durable, that is, it exists with no specified end date, or may apply only to a limited circumstance, such as authorizing an agent to conduct negotiations for a real estate transaction. Someone who holds power of attorney is not required to actually be an attorney, Legal Services for the Elderly states.
Executor of a Will
An executor is an individual or institution that you appoint to execute your final wishes, including distributing your assets according to the terms of your will, according to the University of Maryland University College. The executor for a will may access bank accounts held by the deceased and may pursue legal action on behalf of the estate. The privileges of an executor extend only to the extent necessary to allow her to handle the financial and legal affairs of the deceased, such as filing the final income tax return for the deceased. Once these duties are completed and the will has gone through probate, the duties of an executor end.
An advance directive is either a living will or a durable power of attorney for health related issues, specifically end-of-life care, Medline Plus states. A durable power of attorney for health care appoints an agent to act as health care proxy in the event that you are unable to communicate due to illness or traumatic injury. A living will expresses your wishes to receive or refuse life support, as well as states whether you wish to donate vital organs.
Conservatorship and Dying Intestate
In the event that you become mentally or physically incapacitated without having appointed an agent to act as power of attorney or without having an advance directive in place, the courts will often appoint an conservator to handle your financial or legal affairs, according to the California Courts Self Help Center. If you die intestate, or without a valid will, the courts will often appoint an executor to distribute the assets of your estate according to the laws of your state, the American Bar Association states.
References & Resources
- American Bar Association: What Happens If You Die Without a Will?
- Medline Plus: Advance Directives
- Legal Services for the Elderly: What Is a Power of Attorney?
- The Free Legal Dictionary: Power of Attorney
- California Courts Self Help Center: Duties of a Conservator
- University of Maryland University College: Probate and the Executor of a Will
- American Bar Association: ABA Guide to Wills and Estates
- University of Maryland University College: Checklist to Leave with Your Will
- IRS.gov: Form 2848 -- Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative
- Lawyers.com: What Happens If I Die Without a Will?