Estate Planning 101

When Does a Power of Attorney Expire in Pennsylvania

This article will delve into the different types of POAs, their durations, and their expiration policies within the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania. 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 vital legal document in estate planning that allows an individual, known as the principal, to appoint another person or entity, known as the agent, to make decisions on their behalf. If you're residing in Pennsylvania, understanding the duration and expiration of a Power of Attorney is crucial for effectively managing your affairs. The duration of a POA is primarily dependent on the type of POA - durable, springing, limited, or medical - and the specific conditions provided within the POA document.

Power of Attorney: Duration as defined in the document:

In Pennsylvania, the duration of a Power of Attorney is generally determined by the terms outlined in the POA document itself. This means the POA could be set to expire on a specific date, upon the occurrence of a certain event, or when the principal becomes incapacitated or passes away. All these conditions can be defined by the principal while creating the POA to fit their specific needs.

Different Types of Power of Attorney and Their Duration:

Understanding the various types of POAs and their respective expiration rules is fundamental to effective estate planning. Each type of POA has unique characteristics and expiration rules.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney: This type of POA continues to be in effect even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated. For example, if a principal is diagnosed with a degenerative disease, the durable POA will remain in effect, allowing the agent to make decisions on their behalf. However, as with all POAs, it comes to an end upon the principal's death.
  2. Springing Power of Attorney: A springing POA only becomes active under specific conditions, typically the principal's incapacitation. For instance, if a principal becomes unconscious due to an accident, a springing POA would spring into effect, enabling the agent to make necessary decisions. This POA loses its validity when the principal regains capacity, unless otherwise stated in the document.
  3. Limited Power of Attorney: Also known as a special POA, it is used for a specific task or for a limited period. For example, if a principal needs someone to manage their affairs during a particular period while they are unable to do so, a limited POA could be used. Once the specific task is completed or the period is over, the POA automatically expires.
  4. Medical Power of Attorney: This type of POA grants the agent the authority to make medical decisions for the principal if 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 principals and their appointed agents to effectively navigate the legal landscape of power of attorney in Pennsylvania.

Revoking a Power of Attorney:

If a principal decides to revoke a POA before its stated expiration date, they must adhere to certain legal procedures under Pennsylvania law. Revoking a POA involves an understanding of legal procedures to ensure that all responsibilities are correctly 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. The 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 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 step in to determine the validity of the revocation. If you are considering revoking a POA, it's always recommended to consult with an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process in compliance with Pennsylvania law.

Power of Attorney after the Principal's Death:

Once the principal passes away, the POA generally becomes null and void. The agent does not have the power to manage the deceased's estate. This responsibility falls onto the executor named in the deceased's will or 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 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 cases, the agent may also be named as the executor or trustee. In such scenarios, 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.