Who Can File A Petition Relating To A Power Of Attorney – Almost Anyone, Including Any Interested Person Or Friend

If you have a question or dispute about how a power of attorney operates, or how it should be or is being used, the California Probate Code allows almost anyone to file a petition with the Court for instructions or other remedies. See the provisions of Probate Code Sections 4540 and 4541 below.

Also note, there are powers of attorney for financial and asset management, and powers of attorney for health care and daily living – although some of the provisions are similar, there are important differences. And, perhaps outside of common knowledge, it is not always clear when, for how long, and for what decision making a person can become and becomes an attorney in fact, what decisions can be made, what decisions are legally prudent, and what people and resources, including the principal, might be or in circumstances should be or must be consulted about the matter at hand and possible options for decision making. 

California Probate Code Section 4540 provides as follows:

Subject to Section 4503, a petition may be filed under this part by any of the following persons:

(a) The attorney-in-fact.

(b) The principal.

(c) The spouse of the principal.

(d) A relative of the principal.

(e) The conservator of the person or estate of the principal.

(f) The court investigator, described in Section 1454, of the county where the power of attorney was executed or where the principal resides.

(g) The public guardian of the county where the power of attorney was executed or where the principal resides.

(h) The personal representative or trustee of the principal’s estate.

(i) The principal’s successor in interest.

(j) A person who is requested in writing by an attorney-in-fact to take action.

(k) Any other interested person or friend of the principal.

California Probate Code Section 4541 provides as follows:

A petition may be filed under this part for any one or more of the following purposes:

(a) Determining whether the power of attorney is in effect or has terminated.

(b) Passing on the acts or proposed acts of the attorney-in-fact, including approval of authority to disobey the principal’s instructions pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 4234.

(c) Compelling the attorney-in-fact to submit the attorney-in-fact’s accounts or report the attorney-in-fact’s acts as attorney-in-fact to the principal, the spouse of the principal, the conservator of the person or the estate of the principal, or to any other person required by the court in its discretion, if the attorney-in-fact has failed to submit an accounting or report within 60 days after written request from the person filing the petition.

(d) Declaring that the authority of the attorney-in-fact is revoked on a determination by the court of all of the following:

(1) The attorney-in-fact has violated or is unfit to perform the fiduciary duties under the power of attorney.

(2) At the time of the determination by the court, the principal lacks the capacity to give or to revoke a power of attorney.

(3) The revocation of the attorney-in-fact’s authority is in the best interest of the principal or the principal’s estate.

(e) Approving the resignation of the attorney-in-fact:

(1) If the attorney-in-fact is subject to a duty to act under Section 4230, the court may approve the resignation, subject to any orders the court determines are necessary to protect the principal’s interests.

(2) If the attorney-in-fact is not subject to a duty to act under Section 4230, the court shall approve the resignation, subject to the court’s discretion to require the attorney-in-fact to give notice to other interested persons.

(f) Compelling a third person to honor the authority of an attorney-in-fact.


Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. 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 post. 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. And please also subscribe to this blog and my other blog (see below), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the 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

My law practice primarily involves the following areas and issues:

Probate Court Disputes and Litigation

  • Trust and estate disputes and litigation, and contentious administrations representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries; elder abuse; power of attorney disputes; elder care and nursing home abuse; conservatorships; claims to real and personal property; and other related disputes and litigation.

Business and Business-Related Disputes and Litigation: Private, Closely Held, and Family Businesses; Public Companies; and Nonprofit Entities

  • Business v. business disputes including breach of contract; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices; fraud, deceit and misrepresentation; unfair competition; breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; etc.
  • Misappropriation of trade secrets
  • M&A disputes
  • Founder, officer, director and board, investor, shareholder, creditor, VC, control, governance, decision making, fiduciary duty, conflict of interest, voting, etc., disputes
  • Buy-sell disputes
  • Funding and share dilution disputes
  • Accounting, lost profits, and royalty disputes
  • Access to corporate and business records disputes
  • Employee, employer and workplace disputes, discrimination, whistleblower and retaliation, harassment, defamation, etc.

Investigations and Governance

  • Corporate and business internal investigations
  • Board, audit committee and special committee governance and processes, disputes, conflicts of interest, independence, etc.

* * * * *

Attorney in Fact and Power of Attorney Decision Making

Surprisingly, there is very little statutory or case law discussing:

-Attorney in fact decision making under a power of attorney document;

-When the power of attorney becomes effective;

-If the principal is making the decisions;

-When is the named attorney in fact actually acting as an attorney in fact under the power of attorney;

-Is the attorney in fact a fiduciary, and if he or she is actually acting as a fiduciary, for what is he or she a fiduciary;

-Can someone be acting as a fiduciary in some situations or with respect to some issues and decisions, but at the same time not for other situations, issues and decisions (and related, the principal doesn’t necessarily lose decision making over all situations, issues and decisions, right?); and

-The specifics of whether acting as a fiduciary in a particular situation does or does not switch the burden of proof, and if it does, in what manner, to what extent, and for what events or actions is the burden of proof switched?

These are all important issues, and they are becoming more important. Cases that deal with powers of attorney or even these issues usually don’t go into detail, but many times simply find in a conclusory fashion that someone was a fiduciary so for all purposes and for all events or actions the burden of proof is shifted, and all depending on the judgment of the trier of fact which is often a single judge. I submit that this approach is way to simplistic, conclusory and lacking in critical legal analysis.

The California Probate Code provides that agency law applies to power of attorney, attorney in fact, and principal issues, unless the Probate Code contains a provision that states otherwise or that directly addresses the issue at hand. I very seldom hear discussions in court about statutes that address powers of attorney, or actions and responsibilities and decision making thereunder. The following are a couple of those statutes.

California Probate Code Section 4234 – (a) To the extent reasonably practicable under the circumstances, an attorney-in-fact has a duty to keep in regular contact with the principal, to communicate with the principal, and to follow the instructions of the principal.

California Probate Code Section 4657 – A patient is presumed to have the capacity to make a health care decision, to give or revoke an advance health care directive, and to designate or disqualify a surrogate. This presumption is a presumption affecting the burden of proof.

California Probate Code Section 4684 – An agent shall make a health care decision in accordance with the principal’s individual health care instructions, if any, and other wishes to the extent known to the agent. Otherwise, the agent shall make the decision in accordance with the agent’s determination of the principal’s best interest. In determining the principal’s best interest, the agent shall consider the principal’s personal values to the extent known to the agent.

As you can see, the attorney in fact, assuming that he or she is in fact acting under the power of attorney and as an attorney in fact for the specific situation, issue or action at hand, should be communicating with the principal about important issues and the principal’s wishes and decisions with respect to those issues. And there is or might be an actual or implied presumption that the principal has decision making capacity and is making the decision in that circumstance.

Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and throughout California, http://californiaestatetrust.com