How Effective Is Power of Attorney After Death?

By Marie Murdock

A power of attorney is a legal document in which one person, known as the principal, appoints another, known as an attorney-in-fact, to sign documents and perform acts on his behalf. The powers granted to an attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney terminate upon the death of the principal, but in some states, that termination may be conditioned upon actual knowledge and not affect everyone at the moment of death.


An attorney-in-fact that uses a power of attorney after knowledge of the death of the principal may be held personally liable for damages caused by his acts. The court may award damages in a court of law in favor of the heirs or beneficiaries under the estate of the deceased. If, however, the attorney-in-fact acts in good faith without knowledge of the death of the principal, he may be protected under some states’ laws,

Party Accepting

A person who relies on or accepts a power of attorney in good faith without knowledge of the death of the principal cannot in some states be held liable for damages caused by that acceptance. If the party is aware of the death and is acting in collusion with the attorney-in-fact to dispose of the decedent’s property, then he may be held liable.

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Property Recipient

A person who acts in good faith without knowledge of the death of the seller when purchasing assets of the deceased by deed or other document executed by an attorney-in-fact may be able to keep the property in some states. The heirs may only be left with the option of recovering the cash proceeds received from the sale from the attorney-in-fact. A court of law may be called upon to determine the disposition of the assets in such a transaction. To attempt to prevent this situation, many attorneys or title companies relying on a power of attorney require the attorney-in-fact to execute an affidavit that the principal is alive at the time of the execution of the conveyance document.

Executor or Heirs

One duty of an executor will be to notify banks, other financial institutions, attorneys and all other parties who might be called upon to rely on a power of attorney of the principal’s death. This might save estate assets from damages caused by the acts of an unscrupulous attorney-in-fact.

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Can You Use Power of Attorney When a Person Is Alive?



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Does Power of Attorney Override a Will?

A power of attorney may terminate in a number of ways--upon a stated expiration date, when revoked by the principal who gave the power of attorney or upon the death of that principal. Death is the point at which the powers cease under a power of attorney and property passes into an estate, provided other estate planning provisions haven’t been made. If the deceased died testate, or with a will, the terms of her will become effective once admitted to probate.

Laws of Tennessee Power of Attorney

A power of attorney allows an agent to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of a principal, subject to the terms of a written power of attorney authorization form. Power of attorney is governed by state law, and the laws of each state are slightly different. In Tennessee, power of attorney is governed by Section 34 of the Tennessee Code.

Can I Dispute Power of Attorney of the Deceased?

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants a person the ability to act on behalf of another. The person giving the power of attorney is known as the principal and the person being appointed to act is the agent. Powers of attorney may permit agents to make medical decisions for principals and the power to perform financial tasks such as selling a principal's real estate, cashing checks and paying bills. The power of attorney becomes effective upon signing or with the occurrence of a specific event, such as the disability of the principal.

Power of Attorney

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