Estate Planning 101

When Does a Power of Attorney Expire in Massachusetts

This article will delve into the different types of POAs, their durations, and their expiration policies within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. 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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In the realm of estate planning, a Power of Attorney (POA) is an indispensable tool that allows an individual, known as the principal, to appoint another person, called the agent, to make decisions on their behalf. Based on the diverse and often complex legal environment of Massachusetts, understanding the lifespan and termination of a POA is essential. The duration of a POA mainly hinges on its type - whether it's a durable, springing, limited, or medical POA - and the explicit terms set within the document.

The longevity of a Power of Attorney is often specified in the document:

In Massachusetts, like in many other states, the duration of a POA is typically dictated by the terms outlined in the POA document itself. This means the POA could be programmed to expire on a certain date, upon the occurrence of a specific event, or when the principal becomes incapacitated or dies. The principal can clearly define all these conditions when they are creating the POA to align with their unique needs.

The type of Power of Attorney also impacts its duration:

Understanding the different types of POAs and their respective expiration rules is vital. Each type of POA carries unique characteristics and expiration rules.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney: This type of POA remains in effect even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated. For example, if a principal is diagnosed with dementia, the durable POA will continue to be effective, allowing the agent to make decisions on their behalf. However, as with all POAs, it terminates upon the principal's death.
  2. Springing Power of Attorney: A springing POA only activates under certain circumstances, typically the principal's incapacitation. For instance, if a principal suffers from an accident and becomes unconscious, a springing POA would spring into effect, authorizing the agent to make essential decisions. This POA ends when the principal recovers, unless otherwise mentioned in the document.
  3. Limited Power of Attorney: Also known as a special POA, it is used for a specific purpose or a limited period. For instance, if a principal needs someone to handle their affairs while they are abroad, a limited POA would be used. Once the specific task is completed or the duration ends, the POA automatically terminates.
  4. Medical Power of Attorney: This type of POA empowers the agent to make medical decisions for the principal if they become unable to do so. This type of POA terminates when the principal dies or revokes the POA, or when the principal regains the ability to make their own decisions.

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

Revoking a Power of Attorney:

Should a principal decide to revoke a POA before its stated expiration date, they must adhere to specific legal procedures under Massachusetts law. Revoking a POA isn't as straightforward as deciding one day that the agreement is over. It demands a proper understanding of legal procedures to ensure that all responsibilities are appropriately terminated.

  1. The principal must prepare 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 may have been dealing with the agent under the authority of the POA.

Once these steps are completed, the revocation is usually 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 cases, a court may need to intervene to determine the validity of the revocation. If you are considering revoking a POA, it's always advisable to consult with an experienced attorney to guide you through the process in accordance with Massachusetts law.

Power of Attorney after the principal's death:

When 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.

Upon the principal's death, the executor or administrator's role begins, while the agent's role ends. The executor or administrator has the responsibility of 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 entities 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 set out in the terms of the trust agreement, which may include distributing the trust's assets to beneficiaries.

In some situations, the agent may also be named as the executor or trustee. In these 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.