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

 

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

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New California case upholds the substantial benefit doctrine for payment and recovery of attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees from the entire trust and the shares of all of the beneficiaries

In Smith v. Szeyller (Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, B281758, January 16, 2019), the court held that the probate court’s award approving payment of attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees from the trust to the beneficiary who challenged the trustees’ accounting and management of the trust was appropriate under the substantial benefit doctrine. The beneficiary who challenged the trustees’ accounting and management of the trust prevailed, thus benefiting the trust and all beneficiaries of the trust although only the one beneficiary challenged the accounting and management. As the trust and all of its beneficiaries benefited from the successful challenge, it was appropriate that the attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees be paid and reimbursed from the assets of the entire trust and the shares of each of the beneficiaries thereof.

Note: I used this doctrine after a successful week-long trial in one of my cases.

Thanks for reading this post. If you have found value in 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.

Every trust situation is different. You do need to consult with professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for 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.

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

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; D&O, audit committee, governance and risk management http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

California Trustee – Some Of The Things That Could Keep You Up At Night

Trustee responsibilities are extensive and they arise from different sources including the wording of the trust itself, statutes, and case law. Of course, you have to cover all areas of your trustee responsibility, but here is my list of primary issues that could keep me up at night as a trustee. If you are a trustee, you want to do it right. If you are a beneficiary, you want to receive that to which you are entitled. And there can be a lot of angst, stress, misunderstanding, and disagreement in these situations. A significant part of my practice includes trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and disputes – including contentious administrations. This list is not in any particular order. You might also notice that I update and republish this discussion from time to time as it includes important points that can apply to most trust administrations.

  1. Do you understand what the trust says and requires? This might sound basic, but it isn’t always.
  2. Have you marshalled and safeguarded the assets that are in or that are supposed to be in the trust? Are the assets in the trust, and are they under your control?
  3. Do you really understand your legal responsibilities including not only the wording and requirements in the trust, but also what the probate code and case law require of you? As a trustee you are a fiduciary. You have one of the highest standards of care, responsibility, liability and unbiased fairness and good faith required by law.
  4. Do you have a game plan for the steps required to accomplish the administration of the trust, including the time and timing that it will take? Completing the administration typically takes longer than most people would think. And this alone can cause disagreements, stress, and disputes. There is a court case on this issue, and there are court cases on many of these issues – basically, the case held that a trustee needs to conduct the administration process reasonably expeditiously, but the court decided to not to say that the administration must be “fast” or “quick” or completed in the “fastest” manner. In other words, there is a degree of reasonableness here.
  5. Are the trust assets being invested, managed and recorded properly and prudently? You need to evaluate and manage the returns and the risks, in accord with the wording of the trust and your statutory and case law fiduciary duties. So, for example, the stock market goes up and down. If the market goes down, is your approach to the portfolio management designed to help you avoid liability for losses, not just because the market went down, but also because you have implemented a portfolio approach and might allow you to net losses against gains? And are your investments prudently diversified, also taking into consideration possible risks? You will find additional posts on this blog about investment responsibilities.
  6. Do you have and use the proper fiduciary demeanor and decision-making approach required of a trustee?
  7. Is the trust cash flow prudently managed? You might, for example, through no fault of your own have a trust with declining asset values or liquidity issues, or there might simply be expense and distribution timing issues.
  8. Do you know what to do if you have beneficiaries who are disagreeing with your decisions, or who are threatening litigation, or who have initiated litigation?
  9. Do you know what information you must or possibly should provide to the beneficiaries and when to provide it, including, for example, possible accountings and other information? Even if an accounting isn’t required, sometimes I recommend that a trustee prepare an accounting or some form of an accounting anyway. And, of course, under all circumstances you should and usually must keep accurate and complete records. Even if an accounting is not required, or is not required to be prepared to cover a particular period of time, it is not uncommon for courts to require that an accounting be prepared anyway. And, court and probate code compliant accountings include specific and detailed requirements.
  10. Do you understand that you have personal liability exposure for the actions that you take or don’t take as the trustee? You are required to be prudent with risk management. Also consider possible fiduciary insurance coverage although in most situations it isn’t required or necessary.
  11. Do you know what additional planning opportunities exist or might exist, such as for tax purposes? Similarly, are you aware of new or changing tax, probate code, planning, and investment statutes and rules? And have you calendared important planning and compliance dates?
  12. Do you know how to prudently handle distributions and the timing of distributions? Do you know how to wrap things up and conclude the administration?
  13. Do you know what to do if there is a dispute about how the administration is being handled? This is important. As a trustee you can get yourself into even greater difficulty depending on how you handle disputes and disagreements. And for administration attorneys, I have written about changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct that were implemented on November 1, 2018, and that should be considered in appropriate circumstances.
  14. And last on this list, are you represented by the necessary and appropriate professionals to advise you on your fiduciary duties, trust administration management, compliance, taxes, investments, insurance, asset protection and preservation, communicating with beneficiaries, and other important or possibly important issues?

Thanks for reading this post. Every trust situation is different. You do need to consult with professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for 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.

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

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; D&O, audit committee, governance and risk management http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

If you have found value in 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 above), and connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

New California Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7 – Lawyer as Witness – As Applied to Estate Planning and Trust and Estate Administration Lawyers

On November 1, 2018, California enacted new rules of professional conduct for lawyers. The new rules make many changes, one of which is Rule 3.7 (lawyer as witness). The prior rule (Rule 5-210) applied only to a lawyer as a witness at trial in jury trial proceedings. New Rule 3.7 does not make that distinction – new Rule 3.7 applies to both jury trial and bench or judge trial proceedings. The following is an essentially verbatim summary of new Rule 3.7:

Rule 3.7(a)(lawyer as witness):

  1. Is the lawyer acting as an advocate (i.e., in my view, is the lawyer representing a client) in a trial or an evidentiary hearing?
  2. If the answer is yes to number 1, is the lawyer likely to be a witness?
  3. If the answers are yes to numbers 1 and 2, does the lawyer’s testimony relate to a contested issue or matter?
  4. If the answers are yes to numbers 1, 2, and 3, does the lawyer’s testimony relate to other than the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case?
  5. If the answers are yes to numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, has the lawyer obtained informed written consent from the client?

Rule 3.7(b): A lawyer may act as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm is likely to be called as a witness unless precluded from doing so by rule 1.7 or rule 1.9.

The following is a more detailed discussion that reflects more of the practicalities of the lawyer being involved in or possibly becoming involved in a probate court proceeding in which the lawyer is a witness or might become a witness who will provide testimony or might provide testimony relating to a contested issue or matter or relating to an issue or matter that might become contested? I have stated the Rule in this manner because (1) there are situations in which the Rule is not triggered, and (2) there are situations in which the Rule is triggered, and (3) there are situations in which the Rule might be triggered or might become triggered. In situations (2) and (3) consideration should be given to obtaining informed written consent and the wording and timing of such, whether informed written consent is even an option under the Rule, and whether informed written consent or some other action such as disengagement is best under the situation, and the timing of such.

As probate court proceedings are bench or judge proceedings, for which, with limited exceptions, jury trials usually are not available, it is now important to consider the possible applicability of new Rule 3.7 in all probate court proceedings including those proceedings which have not yet reached the trial stage. New Rule 3.7 already has been a potential issue in some of my cases – Rule 3.7 will or may apply in some probate court proceedings, whereas in others it will not.

Every probate court proceeding and case is different – whether or not Rule 3.7 applies will need to be evaluated on a proceeding by proceeding and case by case basis and might need to be considered at various different times in the course of a proceeding or case as the situation could be fluid and changing.

Note that I am differentiating between a probate court proceeding and a probate court case although the two might be considered the same – many probate court proceedings are never formally scheduled for trial or evidentiary hearing – nevertheless, even when a trial or evidentiary hearing has not been formally scheduled, a reading of Rule 3.7 suggests that the possible applicability of the Rule should still be considered and an evaluation made whether the lawyer is or might be or become an advocate at a trial or evidentiary hearing or proceeding, and whether the lawyer is or might likely be a witness.

Repeating myself somewhat, because this is a situation or question that could arise more often, you will also note that Rule 3.7 can bring into consideration the possibility of conflict waiver, which raises a host of other issues to consider including, for example, the possible timing of a discussion about that possibility (such as possible discussion in an engagement letter), whether an actual conflict waiver should be considered and the timing of such, and, if a conflict waiver is required or desired, whether such a waiver is actually allowable under the circumstances of the proceeding or case, and whether such a waiver is the best or most prudent course of action compared to other possible options including possible disengagement.

New Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7 states as follows:

Rule 3.7 Lawyer as Witness

(a) A lawyer shall not act as an advocate in a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a witness unless:

(1) the lawyer’s testimony relates to an uncontested issue or matter;

(2) the lawyer’s testimony relates to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; or

(3) the lawyer has obtained informed written consent from the client. If the lawyer represents the People or a governmental entity, the consent shall be obtained from the head of the office or a designee of the head of the office by which the lawyer is employed.

(b) A lawyer may act as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm is likely to be called as a witness unless precluded from doing so by rule 1.7 or rule 1.9.

You should also read the discussions and comments, and the cited case, provided under Rule 3.7 to understand and to get a feel for whether the Rule 3.7 applies in your proceeding or case, and, if so, how to approach the possible client written consent option under the facts of your proceeding or case, and possible other options and situations, including disengagement and court discretionary authority to disqualify an attorney even if written consent is obtained (see, e.g., Lyle v. Superior Court).

It is not uncommon for the estate planning attorney or firm to also be involved in subsequent post-death administration which also can be or can become a probate court proceeding. Thus, if the proceeding is a probate court proceeding, pursuant to new Rule 3.7, you must first evaluate whether the lawyer is or might be or become acting as “an advocate” representative, and whether the lawyer is or might likely become a witness providing testimony (declaration?) relating to a contested issue or matter at trial or at an evidentiary hearing or proceeding?

These questions should be carefully evaluated on a proceeding by proceeding or case by case basis. Depending on your evaluation of these issues, next evaluate on a proceeding by proceeding or case by case basis: (1) does the lawyer’s testimony relate to a contested or possibly contested matter or to an uncontested matter; (2) does the lawyer’s testimony relate (solely relate?) to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; and (3) has or will or should the client provide written consent (see also the discussion above)? And, if client written consent is an option, you will also need to consider the wording of the (informed) written consent.

Will the impact of new Rule 3.7 be earthshaking? Rule 3.7 needs to be considered on a proceeding by proceeding and case by case basis. New Rule 3.7 already is or could be applicable in many probate court proceedings and cases. The overall impact will need to be determined over time, and on a county by county and probate judge by probate judge basis. However, in probate court proceedings or cases in which the lawyer is likely or could become likely to be a witness (for example, such as in will and trust contests or possible contests, and possibly in other proceedings or cases in which there is an objection or opposition, or possibly a likely objection or opposition) Rule 3.7 might apply or at least should be considered as possibly applying including the options available.

In appropriate cases you should also consider Rule 3.7(b) which states “A lawyer may act as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm is likely to be called as a witness unless precluded from doing so by rule 1.7 or rule 1.9.”

I will be writing subsequent posts on these issues as they can be important to estate planning and administration attorneys, and in proceedings and cases, and these are and will continue to be developing areas. Please also note that I will also be discussing other rules, cases, decisions, and issues, including possible client duties, that can or might apply in a particular situation, including, for example, Rules 1.6, 1.7, 1.9, and 1.10, which pertain to client confidential information, possible conflicts between current clients, possible conflicts between a former client and a current client, and new Rule 1.10 pursuant to which conflicts can be imputed between different attorneys in the same law firm.

Thanks for reading this post. Every trust situation is different. You do need to consult with professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for 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.

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

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; D&O, audit committee, governance and risk management http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

If you have found value in 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 above), and connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

From Frameworks Institute – Elder Abuse Toolkit

The Frameworks Institute has developed a toolkit which analyzes problems with society’s view of elder abuse and recommends alternative more effective approaches to discussing elder abuse. The following is a link to the Frameworks Institute, Elder Abuse website page, and a screenshot of the initial website page. Best to you – David Tate, Esq.

Here is the link to the Frameworks Institute, Elder Abuse website page, http://frameworksinstitute.org/elder-abuse.html

And the following is a screenshot of the initial website page:

 

A party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute

David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, California (Silicon Valley/Menlo Park Office, with additional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County), http://rroyselaw.com/

The following is a brief discussion about a new California case in which the court held that a party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute. If you have never been involved in the anti-SLAPP statute, it is a big deal. The case is Urick v. Urick, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Case No. B278257 (October 5, 2017).

Summary. Filing a petition for instructions in probate, claiming that a trustee or beneficiary had triggered a no contest clause by filing her prior petition to reform or modify a trust, is a claim that triggers prong one of the California anti-SLAPP statute Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16, which means that the party seeking to claim and enforce that the no contest clause was triggered must be prepared to satisfy prong two of the anti-SLAPP statute which requires him to sufficiently establish a reasonable possibility of prevailing on the claim that the no contest clause was triggered and violated.

Takeaway. If you bring a claim to enforce a no contest clause based on an opposing party’s prior petition filed in probate, you must be prepared at the time of your filing to establish to the court, based on evidence and declarations, that you have a reasonable possibility of prevailing on your claim that the other party had triggered and violated the no contest clause.

Urick is also interesting for the court’s discussion whether the previously filed petition to reform or modify the trust triggered the no contest clause, including the discussion whether that previously filed petition was filed by the petitioner as a beneficiary of the trust or as the trustee of the trust and whether there was really a distinction that mattered under the facts of the case.

Other thoughts about the anti-SLAPP statute. I have been involved in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16 motions. It is my opinion that it is a deeply flawed statute except possibly in really obvious and clear situations and in those cases the party who has those defenses has other remedies such as a demurrer, motion to strike, or motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication. The anti-SLAPP statute should be revoked or very significantly amended and limited. To add further injury, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion automatically stays all discovery unless a motion to allow and compel discovery is brought and the court grants that motion – thus, strategically a party might bring an anti-SLAPP motion simply to see if they can prevail even if their arguments and chances of prevailing are not good – and the statute further provides that if a party prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion they are entitled to attorneys’ fees whereas if a party defeats an anti-SLAPP motion the statute does not provide that they are entitled to recover attorneys’ fees. The anti-SLAPP statute is ripe for abuse or use in situations that might be counter to other public or judicial policies, which the court in Urick appeared to recognize, but as the court noted, nevertheless the statute is still on the books and is applicable unless and until the Legislature does something about the statute.

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New FinCEN and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Memo re Efforts to Combat Elder Financial Exploitation

At the bottom of this post you will find a link to a new Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau memorandum about efforts to combat elder financial exploitation, which the memo identifies as the illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or assets. And I have also included additional links below. As the memo notes, “Financial institutions can play a key role in detecting, responding to, and preventing EFE [Elder Financial Exploitation]. The memo also encourages collaboration between financial institutions, law enforcement and APS [Adult Protective Services]. This is a topic that I have handled in many actual cases, and about which I have given presentations and written blog posts. I have also seen a recent article discussing the rather large percentage of incidents in which physical elder abuse is not reported by medical facilities such as hospitals.

It has long been my view that the collaboration effort must also include private attorneys, for the simple reason that law enforcement and APS simply do not have the resources to handle the numbers of cases, or how long it takes to prosecute them to obtain recovery. Reporting is one thing, prosecuting the cases is an entirely different matter. Law enforcement and APS are not staffed to obtain recovery through the court system. The district attorney and attorney general are staffed to prosecute these cases through the court system, but again, the resources available are inadequate. These cases can involve complicated legal and evidentiary issues including mental capacity, undue influence, dependence, consent, fiduciary and other duties, burden of proof, etc.

In addition to the below link to the FinCEN/Financial Protection Bureau memorandum, I have also provided below a few links to some of my prior posts on this topic and elder abuse.

Best regards, David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, Menlo Park office, http://rroyselaw.com/

http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201708_cfpb-treasury-fincen_memo_elder-financial-exploitation.pdf

Elder Abusers Use The Legal System Also – Video http://wp.me/p1wbl8-jp

Elder and Dependent Adult Resources are Ridiculously Inadequate and Archaic http://wp.me/p1wbl8-cV

Elder Abuse and Protection Slides 2015 http://wp.me/p1wbl8-dm

Counties Need to Refer Elder Abuse Cases to Private Attorneys – Video http://wp.me/p1wbl8-ke

Everyday is elder abuse prevent day – cartoon video http://wp.me/p1wbl8-lE