Personal Representative vs. Power of Attorney in a Will

A last will and testament and a power of attorney are two kinds of legal documents that serve two very different purposes. A person cannot use a last will and testament to grant power of attorney, but you can use one to name a personal representative. Talk to a lawyer for legal advice about the differences between a personal representative and a power of attorney.


Power Of Attorney

If you want to allow someone else to make decisions on your behalf, you can grant power of attorney. A power of attorney is a document where you, the principal, give someone else, the agent or attorney-in-fact, the legal authority to make certain kinds of decisions. You can only create a power of attorney if you are an adult who has the mental capacity to make your own decisions.


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Personal Representative

A personal representative is responsible for settling your estate after you die. An estate is all the property you owned at the time of death, and settling the estate means transferring that property to new owners. The personal representative, sometimes called an executor, gets her power from the probate court. A personal representative's duties include taking an inventory of all estate property, settling any remaining estate debts and transferring estate property to new owners.



A person who creates a last will and testament can nominate someone to serve as the personal representative, but that person only becomes the representative once the probate court approves the nomination and appoints him. A principal can grant power of attorney at any time, and terminate the agent's powers at will. All powers of attorney terminate upon the principal's death, and no agent can continue to act on behalf of the principal once the principal dies.



An attorney-in-fact has only those powers that the principal decides to grant. These come in myriad forms, but typically include making health care decisions when the principal is not able to do so, or conducting business on the principal's behalf. A personal representative's powers are often similar to someone who receives financial powers of attorney, though the two positions have very different responsibilities and origins.