October 15

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Can A Power Of Attorney Change A Will?

By Mac McLean

October 15, 2020


Every estate planning blog, including this one, stresses the importance of filling out a power of attorney when you sit down with an attorney to write your will and other end-of-life documents. These forms let you choose a person who can make legal, financial, and even health care decisions on your behalf if you become mentally or physically incapacitated. 

People who have a power of attorney form – known as someone’s agent or attorney in fact – can sign checks, sell real estate, and place you in a long-term care facility without you knowing what’s happening. And you’re probably also wondering, can a power of attorney change a will?

Luckily, the answer to this question is: “No.” Simply put, a person’s will is his or her declaration of how they want their estate to be distributed when they die. Only the person who owns these assets can make this declaration – otherwise, the state wouldn’t need a process to distribute your assets if you died intestate – which means only you can write or change your will.

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Still, it’s important to know what you’re doing when you choose an agent or an attorney-in-fact. That’s because even though someone with a power of attorney cannot change your will, he or she can sell your house, put you in a substandard retirement home, and put your car in their name.

Here are a couple of ways to protect yourself and your family when setting up a power of attorney:

  • Choose someone you trust — It’s important to trust the person you name as your attorney-in-fact to do that is best for you and what you want them to do. Make sure this person understands why you’re making the decisions you’re making – especially when it comes to end-of-life choices – so they can explain them to your loved one when you cannot.
  • Share the load — Nothing keeps you from having more than one agent or attorney-in-fact.  Most estate planners will even suggest picking a financial power of attorney to manage your financial or business affairs and a health care power of attorney to handle your health care decisions. Sharing the load in this way lessens your agent’s workload and protects your interests by inviting a second person to review the decisions made on your behalf.
  • Set a time limit – It’s also a good idea to include an expiration date with your power of attorney form so you have to review it every couple of years. This step gives you a chance to make sure the person you initially chose to be your agent hasn’t dead and update the document to reflect any other changes in your assets, relationships, or end-of-life choices.

If you’ve still got questions about setting up a power of attorney, which we are sure you do, then one of the best places to get them answered is during a free estate planning workshop offered by PlanningCommunities.org.

Mac McLean

About the author

Based out of Bend, Oregon, Mac McLean is a freelance writer who covers older adults and the issues affecting their daily lives. He currently writes for this website, the AARP Bulletin, and Waste Alert. He and his wife are riding out the pandemic with their 12-year-old English Springer Spaniel mix in a 200-square-foot guest house on a 2.2-acre farm surrounded by chickens, cows, pigs, and a donkey that simply will not shut up.

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