C.R.S. § 15-14-714
Although well settled that an agent under a power of attorney is a fiduciary, there is little clarity in state power of attorney statutes about what that means. See generally Karen E. Boxx, The Durable Power of Attorney's Place in the Family of Fiduciary Relationships, 36 Ga. L. Rev. 1 (2001); Carolyn L. Dessin, Acting as Agent under a Financial Durable Power of Attorney: An Unscripted Role, 75 Neb. L. Rev. 574 (1996). Among states that address agent duties, the standard of care varies widely and ranges from a due care standard (see, e.g., 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 45/2-7 (West 1992); Ind. Code Ann. § 30-5-6 -2 (West 1994)) to a trustee-type standard (see, e.g., Fla. Stat. Ann. § 709.08(8) (West 2000 & Supp. 2006); Mo. Ann. Stat. § 404.714 (West 2001)). Section 15-14-714 clarifies agent duties by articulating minimum mandatory duties (subsection (1)) as well as default duties that can be modified or omitted by the principal (subsection (2)).
The mandatory duties acting in accordance with the principal's reasonable expectations, if known, and otherwise in the principal's best interest; acting in good faith; and acting only within the scope of authority granted may not be altered in the power of attorney. Establishing the principal's reasonable expectations as the primary guideline for agent conduct is consistent with a policy preference for "substituted judgment" over "best interest" as the surrogate decision-making standard that better protects an incapacitated person's self-determination interests. See Wingspan The Second National Guardianship Conference, Recommendations, 31 Stetson L. Rev. 595, 603 (2002). See also Unif. Guardianship & Protective Proc. Act § 314(a) (1997).
The Act does not require, nor does common practice dictate, that the principal state expectations or objectives in the power of attorney. In fact, one of the advantages of a power of attorney over a trust or guardianship is the flexibility and informality with which an agent may exercise authority and respond to changing circumstances. However, when a principal's subjective expectations are potentially inconsistent with an objective best interest standard, good practice suggests memorializing those expectations in a written and admissible form as a precaution against later challenges to the agent's conduct (see Section).
If a principal's expectations potentially conflict with a default duty under the Act, then stating the expectations in the power of attorney, or altering the default rule to accommodate the expectations, or both, is advisable. For example, a principal may want to invest in a business owned by a family member who is also the agent in order to improve the economic position of the agent and the agent's family. Without the principal's clear expression of this objective, investment by the agent of the principal's property in the agent's business may be viewed as breaching the default duty to act loyally for the principal's benefit (subsection (2)(a)) or the default duty to avoid conflicts of interest that impair the agent's ability to act impartially for the principal's best interest (subsection (2)(b)).
Two default duties in this section protect the principal's previously-expressed choices. These are the duty to cooperate with the person authorized to make health-care decisions for the principal (subsection (2)(e)) and the duty to preserve the principal's estate plan (subsection (2)(f)). However, an agent has a duty to preserve the principal's estate plan only to the extent the plan is actually known to the agent and only if preservation of the estate plan is consistent with the principal's best interest. Factors relevant to determining whether preservation of the estate plan is in the principal's best interest include the value of the principal's property, the principal's need for maintenance, minimization of taxes, and eligibility for public benefits. The Act protects an agent from liability for failure to preserve the estate plan if the agent has acted in good faith (subsection (3)).
Subsection (4) provides that an agent acting with care, competence, and diligence for the best interest of the principal is not liable solely because the agent also benefits from the act or has a conflict of interest. This position is a departure from the traditional common law duty of loyalty which required an agent to act solely for the benefit of the principal. See Restatement (Second) of Agency § 387 (1958); see also Unif. Trust Code § 802(a) (2003) (requiring a trustee to administer a trust "solely in the interests" of the beneficiary). Subsection (4) is modeled after state statutes which provide that loyalty to the principal can be compatible with an incidental benefit to the agent. See Cal. Prob. Code § 4232(b) (West Supp. 2006); 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 45/2-7 (West 1992); Ind. Code Ann. § 30-5-9 -2 (West 1994 & Supp. 2005). The Restatement (Third) of Agency § 8.01 (2006) also contemplates that loyal service to the principal may be concurrently beneficial to the agent (see Reporter's note a). See also John H. Langbein, Questioning the Trust Law Duty of Loyalty: Sole Interest or Best Interest?, 114 Yale L.J. 929, 943 (2005) (arguing that the sole interest test for loyalty should be replaced by the best interest test). The public policy which favors best interest over sole interest as the benchmark for agent loyalty comports with the practical reality that most agents under powers of attorney are family members who have inherent conflicts of interest with the principal arising from joint property ownership or inheritance expectations.
Subsection (5) provides additional protection for a principal who has selected an agent with special skills or expertise by requiring that such skills or expertise be considered when evaluating the agent's conduct. If a principal chooses to appoint a family member or close friend to serve as an agent, but does not intend that agent to serve under a higher standard because of special skills or expertise, the principal should consider including an exoneration provision within the power of attorney (see comment to Section).
Subsections (6) and (7) state protections for an agent that are similar in scope to those applicable to a trustee. Subsection (6) holds an agent harmless for decline in the value of the principal's property absent a breach of fiduciary duty (cf. Unif. Trust Code § 1003(b) (2003)). Subsection (7) holds an agent harmless for the conduct of a person to whom the agent has delegated authority, or who has been engaged by the agent on the principal's behalf, provided the agent has exercised care, competence, and diligence in selecting and monitoring the person (cf. Unif. Trust Code § 807(c) (2003).
Subsection (8) codifies the agent's common law duty to account to a principal (see Restatement (Third) of Agency § 8.12 (2006); Restatement (First) of Agency § 382 (1933)). Rather than create an affirmative duty of periodic accounting, subsection (8) states that the agent is not required to disclose receipts, disbursements or transactions unless ordered by a court or requested by the principal, a fiduciary acting for the principal, or a governmental agency with authority to protect the welfare of the principal. If the principal is deceased, the principal's personal representative or successor in interest may request an agent to account. While there is no affirmative duty to account unless ordered by the court or requested by one of the foregoing persons, subsection (2)(d) does create a default duty to keep records.
The narrow categories of persons that may request an agent to account are consistent with the premise that a principal with capacity should control to whom the details of financial transactions are disclosed. If a principal becomes incapacitated or dies, then the principal's fiduciary or personal representative may succeed to that monitoring function. The inclusion of a governmental agency (such as Adult Protective Services) in the list of persons that may request an agent to account is patterned after state legislative trends and is a response to growing national concern about financial abuse of vulnerable persons. See 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 45/2-7.5 (West Supp. 2006 & 2006 Ill. Legis. Serv. 1754); 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5604(d) (West 2005); Vt. Stat. Ann. tit.14, § 3510(b) (2002 & 2006-3 Vt. Adv. Legis. Serv. 228). See generally Donna J. Rabiner, David Brown & Janet O'Keeffe, Financial Exploitation of Older Persons: Policy Issues and Recommendations for Addressing Them, 16 J. Elder Abuse & Neglect 65 (2004). As an additional protective counter-measure to the narrow categories of persons who may request an agent to account, the Act contains a broad standing provision for seeking judicial review of an agent's conduct. See Sectionand Comment.