RELATIONSHIP OF POWER OF ATTORNEY TO OTHER LEGAL INSTRUMENTS What is the difference between an attorney-in-fact and an executor or personal representative?
An executor, termed a “personal representative” in Florida, is the person who takes care of another’s estate after that person dies. An attorney-in-fact may only take care of the principal’s affairs while the principal is alive. A personal representative may be named in a person’s Will and is appointed by the court to administer the estate.
What is the difference between a “trustee” and an “attorney-in- fact?”
Like a power of attorney, a trust may authorize an individual to act for the maker of the trust during the maker’s lifetime. Like an attorney-in-fact, the trustee may manage the financial affairs of the maker of the trust. A trustee only has power over an asset that is owned by the trust. In contrast, an attorney-in-fact may have authority over all of the principal’s assets (except trust assets). Another important distinction is that a trustee may continue acting for the maker of the trust after the maker of the trust dies. In contrast, the Power of Attorney expires upon the death of the principal.
What if the principal has a “guardian” appointed by the court?
If no less restrictive appropriate alternative is available, then a guardian may be appointed by the court for a person who no longer can care for his or her person or property. A person who has a guardian appointed by the court may not be able to lawfully execute a Power of Attorney. If an attorney-in-fact discovers that a guardian has been appointed prior to the date the principal signed the Power of Attorney, the attorney-in-fact should advise his or her lawyer. If a guardianship court proceeding is begun after the Durable Power of Attorney was signed by the principal, the authority of the attorney-in-fact is automatically suspended until the petition is dismisssed, withdrawn or otherwise acted upon. The law requires that an attorney-in-fact receive notice of the guardianship proceeding. If a guardian is appointed, the Power of Attorney is no longer effective unless the court allows certain powers to continue. The power to make health care decisions, however, is not suspended unless the court specifically suspends this power. If the attorney-in-fact learns that guardianship or incapacity proceedings have been initiated, he or she should consult with a lawyer.
May a Power of Attorney avoid the need for guardianship?
Yes. If the alleged incapacitated person executed a valid Durable Power of Attorney prior to his or her incapacity, it may not be necessary for the court to appoint a guardian since the attorney-in-fact already has the authority to act for the principal. As long as the attorney-in-fact has all necessary powers, it may not be necessary to file guardianship proceedings and, even when filed, guardianship may be averted by showing the court that a Durable Power of Attorney exists and that it is appropriate to allow the attorney-in-fact to act on the principal’s behalf.
This is the fourth part of a seven part article on Florida Powers of Attorney Click to review the others . If you need help with a Florida Power of Attorney contact a Jacksonville Florida Estate Planning Lawyer.