Discussions About Powers of Attorney – Responsibilities and Rights (Part 1)

I am writing a couple of posts discussing powers of attorney under the California Probate Code. One of my current cases involves responsibilities and rights under financial and healthcare powers of attorney. A prior case in litigation involved whether or not to disconnect mom from medical equipment that was believed to be keeping her alive. Some of the discussion in these posts will be from a talk that I presented for the Professional Fiduciary Association of California.

Responsibilities and rights under a power of attorney are determined by the wording of the power of attorney itself, statutes, case law, and the facts and circumstances of the situation. These can be complicated issues. Although the wording of the power of attorney is extremely important, and that wording should be where the determination of responsibilities and rights starts, as you will see in these posts, the wording of the power of attorney does not give the complete answer. There are lengthy chapters and books written on these topics – in this and a couple of following posts I will be discussing some of the statutory provisions that govern responsibilities and rights under powers of attorneys under the California Probate Code.

Under the California Probate Code powers of attorney are discussed at Probate Code §§4000-4545.

Thus, for example, California Probate Code §§4050 and 4051 provide as follows:

Probate Section 4050:

(a) This division applies to the following:

(1) Durable powers of attorney, other than powers of attorney for health care governed by Division 4.7 (commencing with Section 4600).

(2) Statutory form powers of attorney under Part 3 (commencing with Section 4400).

(3) Any other power of attorney that incorporates or refers to this division or the provisions of this division.

(b) This division does not apply to the following:

(1) A power of attorney to the extent that the authority of the attorney-in-fact is coupled with an interest in the subject of the power of attorney.

(2) Reciprocal or interinsurance exchanges and their contracts, subscribers, attorneys-in-fact, agents, and representatives.

(3) A proxy given by an attorney-in-fact to another person to exercise voting rights.

(c) This division is not intended to affect the validity of any instrument or arrangement that is not described in subdivision (a).

Probate Section 4051:

Except where this division provides a specific rule, the general law of agency, including Article 2 (commencing with Section 2019) of Chapter 2 of Title 6 of, and Title 9 (commencing with Section 2295) of, Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code, applies to powers of attorney.

In relevant part, California Civil Code Sections 2019, 2020 and 2022 provide:

Civil Code Section 2019 – an agent must not exceed the limits of his actual authority.

Civil Code Section 2020 – an agent must use ordinary diligence and keep his or her principal informed of his or her acts.

Civil Code Section 2022 – a mere agent of an agent is not responsible as such to the principal of the latter.

Thus, whereas the power of attorney might appear to say or suggest that the attorney-in-fact has absolute authority at least in the circumstances that are listed, you can see that, nevertheless, the attorney-in-fact cannot exceed his or her actual authority, he or she has to use at least ordinary diligence unless the power of attorney states otherwise, and the attorney-in-fact must keep his or her principal informed of his or her acts. And these are themes and requirements that run throughout the statutes that more specifically discuss responsibilities and rights, and that will be discussed in future posts.

Every case and situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only. I am also the new Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com



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