A Colorado man abuses the power of attorney granted by his father and ends up in court.
A recent case appearing before the Colorado Court of Appeals illustrates some of the potential dangers of granting unlimited power of attorney. The case, 2013 COA 149. No. 13CA0492. People v. Stell, overturns a District Court decision that dismissed provisions of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPAA) as they are understood in the state of Colorado.
As background to this case, a man residing in Virginia granted power of attorney to his son, Geoffrey Hunt Stell, a Colorado resident, in 2009. (Power of attorney allows a named agent full control to make decisions involving the grantor’s assets and property.)
According to the original complaint, Geoffrey Stell
had liquidated all of [his father’s] bank accounts, CDs, 401k, sold the timber on 11 acres of land owned by [the father], and completed the sale of this same 11 acres
between May 29, 2009 and June 5, 2010. The defendant allegedly received a total of $453,928.81 from the liquidation of these assets.
Stell thereafter convinced his father to place his assets into a trust and to name Stell as the trustee. But, Stell suspiciously failed to name his father as a beneficiary of the trust, and moreover withheld this information from his father. In doing so, Stell effectively claimed his father’s assets as his own.
On October 2, 2010, Stell’s father came to the realization that his son had not acted on his behalf. He terminated the power of attorney and requested that the Denver District Attorney’s Office investigate his son’s activities. Stell was thereafter indicted on eight counts of theft. The D.A.’s Office also presented further evidence that Stell had deceived and threatened his father with regard to the trust.
Ultimately, however, the Colorado District Court granted Stell’s motion to dismiss the case, based on the fact that his actions had occurred while his father’s power of attorney declaration was still in effect. This decision stood until November of 2013, when the case was taken up by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
As the plaintiff in the case, the People appealed by arguing that Stell had, in fact, committed theft, using the definition of a thief as one who
knowingly obtains, retains, or exercises control over anything of value of another without authorization or by threat or deception ... [while intending] to deprive the other person permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value.
Applying a number of additional legal principles and precedents, the People demonstrated that the intent of the power of attorney in this case was that Stell “would act on the victim’s behalf, as opposed to in his own interest.” The Appeals Court judge agreed, and overturned the previous court decision.
The lessons to be drawn from this particular cautionary tale emphasize quite clearly the responsibilities of both the grantor and the recipient of power of attorney. Firstly, the grantor should take great care not to unwittingly afford this power to a potentially deceitful relative. Secondly, the recipient of power of attorney ought to make certain that his or her actions involving the grantor’s assets are demonstrably beneficial (or at the very least, not blatantly detrimental) to the grantor.