Power of attorney is one of the most important legal forms for estate and elder care planning. Along with wills and trust documents, it is a critical document for arranging one’s affairs.
A power of attorney can’t change a properly written will. But note that an agent can make many changes to the assets in the estate, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Can a Power of Attorney Change a Will?”
A power of attorney is a document that grants a person, known as the attorney in fact or agent, the authority to make legally binding decisions on your behalf. This can mean managing financial assets, making choices regarding medical care, signing contracts and other commitments.
Your attorney in fact can access confidential materials and their decisions are as binding as if you had made them yourself. In some instances, you may want your power of attorney to be broad and at other times you may want to limit its authority by time, scope, or both.
Provided a will is valid, an attorney in fact can’t modify or rewrite it. It’s not within their scope of authority, even if it specifically says otherwise.
A will written by a power of attorney is invalid on its face.
The authority of an attorney in fact typically ends once the principal (the person granting authority) dies. At that point, the principal’s legal rights transfer to their estate. The executor of the estate takes over and manages all of the deceased’s affairs from that point forward.
Thus, an attorney in fact appointed under a power of attorney can’t change a will while the principal is alive because they don’t have the authority to do so. In addition, they can’t change an estate once the principal dies because their role as attorney in fact under the power of attorney ends with his or her death.
It’s important to understand that a person with a general power of attorney can still change the circumstances surrounding a will. He or she can make changes to your estate—essentially, before it becomes your estate. For example, an attorney in fact can make significant financial decisions on your behalf. As a result, they may be able to restructure your personal finances according to their own best judgment. The effect is that it may invalidate sections of your will if the power of attorney dissolves or changes assets that you had assigned to various heirs. This doesn’t always require bad faith and unfair dealing, but that can also occur.
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Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 17, 2021) “Can a Power of Attorney Change a Will?”