Question: I am listed as power of attorney on my mom’s bank account. Will I be able to access this money after she dies to pay for the funeral?
Answer: No. By law, a power of attorney document expires at the death of your mom, the “principal.” You are the “agent” under the document and you only have the power to act on your mom’s behalf while she is still living. Whether you have been named as an agent under a power of attorney from the bank or whether you have a general power of attorney executed with a lawyer, the power under both documents terminates at your mother’s death.
If your mother wants you to have access to the account immediately after her death, you should discuss her intent. Does she want you own the account at her death, then you should be named as joint owner on the account. Upon mom’s death, the joint owner becomes the sole owner of the account with full rights to the assets. Of course your mom must realize that any money in the account will go directly to the joint owner and will not pass on to any other beneficiaries that she may have named in her Last Will and Testament. If she wants you to share the assets with other beneficiaries, then she may memorialize the fact that it is a convenience account.
If your mom does not feel comfortable naming a joint owner on the account but she wants to avoid the probate process, she can contact the institution that handles the account and give them names of who will receive the account assets at her death. If mom only beneficiaries, then she will be the only person who can access the account while she is living. Each type of account has its own terminology for the person who will receive the assets after death. For example, an IRA has a designated beneficiary. Typically a brokerage account has a “Transfer on Death” beneficiary. In contrast, a checking or savings account can have an in trust for designation, “ITF,” commonly known as a Totten trust account.
The titling of a bank account will determine how assets are distributed after death. While the banking institution works with the client to name the accounts properly, it is important that the exact titling of the accounts is discussed with an estate planning attorney to make sure that the intent of the account owner is accomplished.