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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

What’s the Difference Between a Personal Representative and a Power of Attorney?

POSTED ON: August 20, 2019

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that designates an agent (also known as an “attorney-in-fact”), most often a loved one, to act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or legal matters. The person authorizing the other to act is the principal. Let’s say a father (the principal) has his son be his POA. The son can handle matters like accessing his dad’s financial accounts to pay his dad’s bills, file taxes on behalf of his dad, and manage his dad’s property. POAs expire at death, or sooner in some cases, and can always be revoked upon the request of the principal.

When a POA expires upon the death of the principal, that’s where the personal representative takes over. The personal representative is named in the Last Will and Testament, and they are responsible for managing the estate after the testator (person who writes and signs the will) passes away. Responsibilities of the personal representative include locating and safeguarding the testator’s probate assets, valuing the probate assets and non-probate assets (value of non-probate assets is needed if the estate will owe taxes), identifying creditors and paying debts, preparing and filing tax returns, paying the ongoing expenses of administering the estate, and distributing the estate to beneficiaries.

Bottom line: the power of attorney can’t act after the principal’s death, and the personal representative can’t act while the principal is alive.