Does Power of Attorney Override a Will?

By Marie Murdock

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.


The principal may give limited or very broad powers to her attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney depending on her intentions. During estate planning, a parent or other relative may have appointed you to act as her attorney-in-fact during her lifetime under the terms of a durable, general power of attorney. Your authority under this type of power of attorney will often be unlimited, allowing you to act in the stead of the principal in almost any situation. A durable power of attorney states that it is effective in the event the principal later becomes mentally incapacitated and is unable to manage her affairs. Persons relying on the power of attorney will generally require that you present the document before allowing you to sign on the principal’s behalf. They may also require that you sign an affidavit stating that the principal is still living at the time of the transaction. If the principal is not living, you will not be allowed to sign documents with the power of attorney.

Personal Representative

You may have been named by a relative in his will to act as his personal representative, also referred to as executor. This gives you the authority to file the will for probate and petition the court for letters testamentary. While the powers granted to an attorney-in-fact are given by the person who signs the power of attorney, powers granted to you as personal representative are by virtue of a court order. Banks, attorneys or other institutions may refuse to accept a power of attorney for various reasons, but most people and institutions will be required to accept letters testamentary as the final authority of a decedent’s estate.

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Power of Attorney After Death

Any powers granted to you under the terms of a power of attorney are taken away at the principal’s death by law. Laws in some jurisdictions, however, may offer banks or other institutions limited protection from liability if the employee who accepts the power of attorney and performs the transaction is unaware of the death of the principal. You, as attorney-in-fact however, may be held personally liable for any acts taken after the death of the principal that are detrimental to the estate of the deceased.

Will After Death

Once you have been appointed personal representative, you will generally be given the powers set out in the will. No one else, including prior attorneys-in-fact will be allowed to act on behalf of the estate. Unless you renounce your rights to act or are removed due to a breach of your fiduciary duties or other reason considered valid by the court, you will be in charge of handling all affairs of the estate until you are discharged after a final settlement.

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Difference of Power of Attorney & Executor of Will


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Is Power of Attorney Valid After Death?

If you wish to give another person the authority to make important decisions and act on your behalf, you may draw up a power of attorney, or POA. This document allows an agent to sign documents or otherwise act in your place. A specific POA grants authority over a single matter or field, while a general POA gives blanket authorization in any and all matters, as allowed by state law. The POA expires under certain circumstances, including death.

Can a Power of Attorney Be Revoked by a Mentally Incompetent Principal?

Power of attorney is one of several legal mechanisms designed to protect a person's legal interests. A durable power of attorney allows someone designated by the principal, or the person executing the power of attorney, to act as an agent on the principal's behalf. While power of attorney may be revoked, the law does not allow a mentally incompetent principal to do so.

What Do You Call the Absolute Power of Attorney?

You may find references on the Web to an "absolute" power of attorney that remains in effect after death, but no such animal exists. Although these important legal documents can grant agents extremely broad authority in both financial and health care matters, every power of attorney expires upon the death of the maker.

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