You may find references on the Web to an "absolute" power of attorney that remains in effect after death, but no such animal exists. Although these important legal documents can grant agents extremely broad authority in both financial and health care matters, every power of attorney expires upon the death of the maker.
Powers of Attorney
Powers of attorney have little to do with lawyers. Rather, the legal documents are vehicles that allow you to appoint someone to make decisions and take actions in your place. The person making the power of attorney, termed the principal, decides on the scope of the authority granted. For example, you can use a financial power of attorney to name an agent to sell your house or you can name someone to take complete control of your finances.
Terminating Powers of Attorney
A competent principal can terminate her power of attorney at any time after making it. No formal revocation procedure is necessary as long as the agent is informed, but it is preferable to put it in writing. Regular powers of attorney also expire if the principal becomes incapacitated, but durable powers of attorney do not; they continue in full force until the principal's death. An agent misusing authority granted under a power of attorney, the POA can be terminated by the court.
Death Ends All
The death of a principal terminates a power of attorney in every state. Since an agent's role is to make decisions and take actions in a principal's stead, it makes sense that this authority terminates with the demise of the principal. After a principal dies, her estate passes to her heirs or beneficiaries, who can manage their affairs as they see fit.
Absolute Power of Atttorney
Although no power of attorney lasts beyond the death of the principal, such sweeping powers are afforded by a durable, general power of attorney that it may be appropriate to call it absolute. Whether financial or medical, a durable power of attorney gives the agent the right to act virtually unsupervised in the principal's stead. Although the agent is in a fiduciary relationship with the principal, charged with a very high duty of good faith and fair dealing, it is difficult for loved ones to monitor an agent's actions if the principal is incapacitated.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.