A power of attorney is a legal document that gives a person the right to act on behalf of another. In Florida estate planning circumstances, powers of attorney are often utilized to name another person as agent for financial, medical or other decisions. The person who gives these powers is referred to as the “principal.” It is not possible to establish a power of attorney after a person has died, and existing powers of attorney generally cease when the principal dies.

In cases where an agent has been named via a power of attorney but then the principal dies, the agent must stop performing duties on behalf of the deceased. This includes situations where the agent had been empowered to pay bills and settle accounts. Once the principal has died, his or her will or other planning instrument becomes operative. When a person dies, he or she can no longer own property. Probate is the process by which property is transferred to heirs after death.

In cases where there is no will, the person’s property must still go through the probate process, but it will be transferred by the rules of state law rather than a will. Because powers of attorney cease on the death of the principal, there are better ways to ensure that ownership of assets passes after death. These include wills, trusts and rights of survivorship.

An attorney who handles probate and estate administration in Florida might be able to help interested parties develop an estate plan that meets their needs and goals. An attorney may review and update an existing plan, or he or she might create a new plan including living trusts, powers of attorney, a will or other instruments. With the proper focus on estate planning early on, problems during probate or asset distribution might be avoided.