Estate Planning 101

When Does a Power of Attorney Expire in California

This article will delve into the different types of POAs, their durations, and their expiration policies within the jurisdiction of California. We will also explore the potential responsibilities that someone with POA may have to handle after the death of the individual they represented.
September 14, 2023

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A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that enables an individual (the principal) to designate another person (the agent) to make decisions on their behalf. In the Golden State of California, understanding the lifespan and termination of a POA is vital to sound estate planning. The duration of a POA largely depends on its type - be it durable, springing, limited, or medical - and the specific terms stated within the document.

The terms within a Power of Attorney dictate its lifespan:

In California, the duration of a POA is primarily determined by the conditions outlined in the POA document itself. This means that the POA can be set to end on a certain date, upon the occurrence of a specific event, or upon the incapacitation or death of the principal. These provisions can be defined by the principal when creating the POA according to their specific needs.

The type of Power of Attorney also influences its duration:

Understanding the various types of POAs and their respective expiration rules is crucial. Each type of POA functions differently and has unique expiration rules.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney: This type of POA continues to be effective even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated. For example, if a principal is diagnosed with dementia, the durable POA remains in effect, allowing the agent to make decisions on their behalf. However, like all types of POAs, it ceases to be effective upon the principal's death.
  2. Springing Power of Attorney: A springing POA only becomes effective under certain conditions, typically when the principal becomes incapacitated. For instance, if a principal suffers a stroke and becomes unable to communicate, a springing POA would spring into effect, enabling the agent to make necessary decisions. Once the principal regains capacity, the POA loses its validity, unless otherwise specified in the agreement.
  3. Limited Power of Attorney: Also known as a special POA, it is used for a specific purpose or for a limited period. For example, if a principal needs someone to handle their business affairs while on a long vacation, a limited POA could be used. Once the specific task is completed or the duration is over, the POA automatically ends.
  4. Medical Power of Attorney: This POA authorizes the agent to make medical decisions for the principal when they become unable to do so. This type of POA expires when the principal dies or revokes the POA, or when the principal regains the ability to make their own decisions.

Understanding these different types of POAs and their respective expiration rules can help both individuals and their appointed agents navigate the legal landscape of power of attorney in California more effectively.

Revoking a Power of Attorney:

If a principal decides to revoke a POA before its stated expiration date, they must follow certain legal procedures under California law. Revoking a POA is not as simple as deciding one day that the agreement is over. The process involves a proper understanding of legal procedures to ensure that all responsibilities are appropriately terminated.

  1. The principal must create a written notice of revocation. This document should include the principal's name, the agent's name, and the date the original POA was executed. This document must be signed and dated by the principal.
  2. The principal should then deliver this revocation notice to the agent. This can be done in person or through certified mail with return receipt requested, to ensure proof of delivery. It is also recommended to notify any third parties (like banks or other financial institutions) that have been dealing with the agent under the authority of the POA.

Once these steps are completed, the revocation is generally effective immediately, and the agent no longer has the authority to act on behalf of the principal. However, in some cases, such as with a durable POA, the principal may need to record the revocation at the local county recorder's office where the original POA was filed.

It's important to note that if the principal is mentally incapacitated, they cannot legally revoke a POA. In such a case, a court may need to intervene to determine the validity of the revocation. If you are considering revoking a POA, it's always a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney to guide you through the process in accordance with California law.

Power of Attorney after death:

Once the principal passes away, the POA generally becomes null and void. The agent does not have the power to handle the deceased's estate. This responsibility falls to the executor mentioned in the deceased's will or to the administrator appointed by the probate court if no will exists.

The executor or administrator's role begins upon the principal's death, whereas the agent's role ends. The executor or administrator is responsible for gathering the deceased's assets, paying off any debts or taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will, all under the supervision of the probate court.

Trustees, on the other hand, are individuals or institutions appointed to manage a trust established by the principal. Unlike a POA or executor, a trustee's role does not necessarily end with the death of the principal. Instead, their responsibilities continue as outlined in the terms of the trust agreement, which may include distributing the trust's assets to beneficiaries.

In some instances, the agent may also be named as the executor or trustee. In such cases, their responsibilities could extend beyond the principal's death, but their role changes. As an executor or trustee, they are no longer acting under the authority of the POA but rather under the authority of the will or trust agreement.