I was Mom’s power of attorney. Do I need to be named administrator?


Q. My mom passed away and my sister and I have a lawsuit for a bad medical device that was implanted in her. The attorney said we cannot collect the proceeds from the court winning unless one of us becomes the administrator. Before my mother passed away, I was her power of attorney and beneficiary to her insurance policy. Why shouldn’t that be good enough? What should I do next?
— Confused

A. We’re sorry to hear about your mother.

When a person plans for their estate, there are certain documents that are effective when you are alive and others that do not have an effect until you pass away.

When a person executes a power of attorney, that authority given to another to act on that person’s behalf is only good for their lifetime, said Naomi Becker Collier, an attorney and partner with Pashman Stein Walder Hayden in Hackensack.

When that person dies, the authority given also dies, Collier said.

“The naming of a beneficiary of a life insurance policy is simply directing to whom the proceeds should be paid when the insured passes away and does not give that individual any authority to act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate,” she said. “Therefore, until someone qualifies to act as either an executor — if the person died with a will and named an executor — or an administrator — if the person did not have a will — then no one has the requisite authority needed to act on behalf of the estate.”

It seems that your mom didn’t have a will, so someone must petition the surrogate’s court in the county where your mom resided when she died to be appointed as administrator of the estate, Collier said.

“There is statutory guidance as to who has priority, and most surrogate courts’ websites provide guidance for pro se applicants — those without legal representation — that may be helpful,” she said. “An attorney versed in estate administration can also be engaged to assist through the process.”

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This story was originally published on July 19, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.