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Power of attorney: A power that dies with your loved one

This has happened more than once. Someone - let's call him Robert Sr. - grants his son, Robert Jr., financial power of attorney for himself. When Robert Sr. becomes ill, Robert Jr. dutifully pays his bills and manages his accounts.

When Robert Sr. dies, Robert Jr. - not knowing better - continues as before, opening mail and paying bills - thousands of dollars worth.

Most people would say, What a good son. But the law doesn't say that. The law says, What were you thinking? You had no right messing with your father's estate.

Colorado law says that the power of attorney ends when the individual's life ends. The moment that happens, no one can mess with the decedent's estate, even if they are a son, daughter, parent, sibling or some other trusted person.

Robert Sr. had a will, and on that will he named an executor. If Robert Sr. did not have a will, the court will appoint an administrator. Only the executor or administrator has the right to touch the decedent's accounts.

Every year, people innocently get involved in their finances, thinking they are doing a good thing. In fact, they may be calling a world of trouble down upon themselves.

The law turns to executors/administrators for a good reason. With the authority to manage the estate goes responsibility. These individuals are on the hook for any error that is made, and they understand the seriousness of that responsibility. Good sons like Robert Jr. do not.

The law has a formula for which creditors are paid first, which Robert Jr. has no idea about. He may be told to pay back any expenses he paid out of his own pocket. Needless to say, this amount can be very high.

Of course, not every estate situation is as innocent as the one involving Robert Jr. Powers of attorney can be abused. Other family members and heirs may have strong feelings about Robert Jr. assuming this responsibility.

Probate law is complex and does not lend itself to informal interpretation. If you have power of attorney for a loved one, you need to know that the right to manage finances ends the moment the loved one is no more.

If you have questions about wills, probate and powers of attorney, call our Denver office, or visit us at one of our offices in Arvada, Broomfield, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, Lakewood, Littleton, or Lone Tree. 

We will be happy to explain what you can and cannot do.

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