A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person legal power to make personal decisions on your behalf. A trustee, on the other hand, is a person or company appointed in a trust document to manage and disburse trust property.
Trusts and powers of attorney are both common estate planning documents. They serve by different methods, but both arrive at the same goal of planning for the management and care of you and your property.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal authorization that you, the Principal, give to somebody else, called the Agent or Attorney in Fact. The Agent is authorized to make decisions regarding the Principal's personally-owned property.
If you create a trust then you are called the beneficiary, and in your trust document you will appoint a trustee and convey property to the trust. The trustee has authority to manage, invest, sell, and disburse any of the property held by the trust, but the trustee has no authority in your personally-owned property.
The main purpose of appointing a trustee is to avoid probate, which is the legal process by which a court will distribute your property to your heirs when you die. Thus, the purpose of a trust is to plan ahead for your death.
Power of Attorney Purpose
The purpose of a power of attorney, on the other hand, is to plan ahead for moments in your life when you are unable to make your own decisions. For example, it is common for an estate plan to include a health care power of attorney that gives your agent authority to instruct physicians on how to take care of you in case you are in a coma, on life support, or otherwise mentally incapacitated. Similarly, a financial power of attorney allows your agent to take care of your property, pay your bills, and manage your money.