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How long is a power of attorney good for?

When does a power of attorney expire? The answer may depend on what type of power of attorney document you are dealing with.

evident Editorial Team
published
June 15, 2023
lake and mountain

How long does a power of attorney last? There are some scenarios where all power of attorney documents expire, such as if the principal dies. 

But the answer largely depends on what type of power of attorney you have in place and what the document says. Specifically, there is a key difference between a durable and a non-durable power of attorney.

In this article, we’ll cover some basics about what powers of attorney are, when they take effect, and when they end.

Key Takeaways

What is a power of attorney?

A power of attorney (or POA) is a legal document in which one person gives another person the authority to make decisions on their behalf. 

The person who creates the document and grants the authority is called the principal, while the person they authorize to act on their behalf is called the agent or attorney-in-fact. The agent could be a trusted family member, or a professional such as a lawyer.

The principal may grant the agent broad or limited powers, depending on whether they want to empower the agent for a specific purpose or to act on their behalf more generally.

Here are some types of power of attorney based on the scope of authority granted:

  • General Power of Attorney: Gives the attorney-in-fact broad powers to handle your financial matters and legal affairs.
  • Limited Power of Attorney: Gives the agent legal authority to act in specified circumstances, such as selling a specific property, making healthcare decisions, handling financial affairs, and more.
  • Financial Power of Attorney: Gives the attorney-in-fact certain powers related to making financial decisions, interacting with financial institutions on your behalf, or managing bank accounts.
  • Medical Power of Attorney: Gives the agent authority to make health care decisions if you cannot do so yourself.

Separate from the powers granted, there are also different durational types of power of attorney:

  • Regular Power of Attorney: Sometimes called a non-durable power of attorney, these take effect immediately and expire if the principal becomes incapacitated.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: This type of POA remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. Without a durable power of attorney, a POA would expire in case of incapacity.
  • Springing Power of Attorney: A springing POA becomes effective only when a specific event occurs, such as incapacitation or disability. (In this sense, the springing power of attorney relates more to when the POA takes effect than what powers the document grants).

Keep in mind that state laws vary regarding powers of attorney. For example, Pennsylvania assumes that a power of attorney is a durable power of attorney by default.

So while you do not necessarily need a lawyer to create a power of attorney, it can be helpful to speak with an estate planning attorney who is familiar with the laws of your state.

When does a power of attorney take effect?

There are two main options for when a power of attorney takes effect: immediately, or when the principal becomes incapacitated. 

A regular power of attorney typically takes effect immediately. Typically, both durable and non-durable powers of attorney give the agent authority to act immediately. 

The exception to this rule is a springing power of attorney, which operates differently. A springing POA is a type of durable power of attorney that only goes into effect when you become incapacitated. 

Here's a timeline as an example, showing when the different types of POA take effect if the principal suffers an injury and becomes incapacitated:

Timeline of when different POAs are in effect

As you can see, with a springing POA your agreement remains inactive until a health event activates it. Meanwhile, a general durable power of attorney would be in effect both before and after the injury.

Your power of attorney documents must include a detailed description of what type of event or level of incapacitation is necessary to put your POA into effect.

Does a power of attorney expire?

Yes, all powers of attorney expire at some point, including upon the death of the principal if they do not expire sooner. 

We’ve discussed that durable POAs work differently, so you may be wondering: does a durable power of attorney expire? Yes, a durable power of attorney expires eventually as well, but it does not expire when the principal becomes incapacitated. Indeed, the point of a durable power of attorney is that it remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated.

When does a power of attorney expire?

All powers of attorney expire at some point, so the key question is when they expire.

How long is a power of attorney good for? The answer depends in part on the type of power of attorney at issue, but typically a power of attorney ends:

  • When the principal dies
  • When the principal becomes incapacitated (for non-durable POAs)
  • If the POA document says so
  • If the principal revokes the POA

The principal dies

As noted above, all powers of attorney expire upon the death of the principal. 

Power of attorney documents authorize an agent to act on a principal’s behalf in either limited or broad areas of authority. But they are only valid during the principal’s life. 

Once a person dies, powers of attorney expire and the probate process begins. At this point, either the decedent’s will or laws of intestacy dictate how the probate process unfolds. 

But rather than an agent acting on a principal’s behalf, once the principal dies, an executor or estate administrator works with a probate court to administer the deceased’s estate. 

The principal becomes incapacitated

Regular, non-durable powers of attorney expire when the principal becomes incapacitated. Thus, if a principal suffers an accident and cannot make decisions for themselves, a regular power of attorney will expire. 

Durable powers of attorney, meanwhile, remain in effect even after the principal becomes incapacitated. But a non-durable POA will expire when the principal becomes incapacitated.

The POA has an expiration date (or condition)

Another way a power of attorney could expire is if the principal includes an expiration date in the POA document ahead of time.

Expiration dates are sometimes included in temporary POAs. For instance, if someone creates a financial power of attorney so that an agent can manage their financial affairs while they travel abroad, they might dictate in advance when this limited POA should expire.

Powers of attorney can also be structured with a condition that the POA will expire once a certain event occurs. For instance, a medical POA could contain a condition that the power of attorney will expire if the principal regains the ability to make their own medical decisions.

The principal revokes the power of attorney

Finally, another way a power of attorney could end is if the principal revokes the POA. 

Perhaps the principal changes their mind about who they want to be their agent, such as after a divorce. Or perhaps the principal no longer feels the need for the power of attorney. 

Whatever the reason, principals can revoke a power of attorney at any time as long as they are mentally competent. 

The bottom line

How long a power of attorney document lasts depends in large part on the type of POA.

All POAs expire upon the death of the principal, and you can specify if you would like your power of attorney to end on a certain date or upon a certain condition.

Otherwise, the main factor that determines when a POA expires is whether it is a durable or non-durable POA. A regular, non-durable POA expires when the principle becomes incapacitated whereas a durable power of attorney remains in effect.

Additionally, a principal can always revoke an agent's authority as long as they are still of sound mind. 

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