Learn About Power of Attorney Duties After a Death

Senior man signing power of attorney form
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This is a tricky question, but it comes up frequently: What happens with a power of attorney after death Consider this scenario: Your parent has recently passed away and you're named as his agent in a power of attorney (POA). The POA gives you authority to act for your parent on his behalf in a number of financial situations, such as buying or selling property for him or maybe just paying his bills.

After his death, you might think that you should continue paying those bills and settling out his accounts. In reality, you should not -- at least not unless you've also been named as the executor of his estate in his last will and testament. Here's how this works. 

Executor of the Estate vs. Power of Attorney Agent After Death 

If your parent's bank account is titled in his sole name -- and if he owns anything else in his sole name -- his will must be filed with the probate court to distribute his property to his living beneficiaries. If he did not leave a will, his property must pass through probate to transfer title to his heirs. In this case, the court will appoint an administrator to settle his estate. Otherwise, the executor named in his will would serve.

In either case, with or without a will, a deceased person cannot hold ownership of property. Therefore, your parent's power of attorney becomes useless.

It authorizes you to make financial transactions for him, but technically, he no longer owns the property or money over which the POA placed you in charge - his estate does. Only if you're also named as the executor or administrator of his probate estate would you still have authority over his bank accounts and other assets.

These temporarily become the property of his estate after his death until they can be transferred to living individuals. 

You might say, "But I still have power of attorney so I can write checks to pay bills and close out the bank accounts and list the house for sale." But that isn't the case. A son or daughter cannot use his or her parent's power of attorney after mom or dad has died because the authority granted to the son or daughter through the POA, unfortunately, died with mom or dad.

After death, authority to act on a deceased person's estate is granted by a probate court when the judge approves either the individual named as executor in his will or appoints an administrator to manage his intestate estate. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as a small estate that does not require probate or the parent's use of a revocable living trust in which a successor trustee takes over after the parent dies, but these exceptions are limited.

So what are the duties of the agent of a power of attorney after the principal -- the person granting the POA -- dies? Nothing, absolutely nothing.