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Challenging a power of attorney

A common document used by many Californians is a power of attorney (POA). This legal document allows the principal to grant authority to another person to make financial and healthcare decisions for them when they become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. While a power of attorney can offer important protections and help families avoid the probate process to appoint a guardian, it can also be risky if the attorney-in-fact or agent designated by the principal makes decisions that are not in the principal’s interests. Here are a few ways to challenge a power of attorney.

Incompetence at the time of signing

Before someone can grant legal authority to someone else to act on their behalf, they must be competent. An incompetent person cannot legally authorize another person to serve as their attorney-in-fact or agent through a power of attorney. If there is evidence that the principal was incompetent at the time they signed the power of attorney, a family member could file an estate litigation action in probate court to challenge it. Similarly, family members might challenge a POA when the legal rules for a valid document were not followed at the time of its creation.

Abuse of authority by the attorney-in-fact or agent

If the attorney-in-fact or agent who was granted authority to act on the principal’s behalf abuses their authority, it is also possible to challenge their appointment under the POA. For example, if the agent engages in any of the following conduct, a court could dissolve the POA and appoint someone else to act instead:

  • Misappropriation of the principal’s assets
  • Using the principal’s assets for the agent’s personal gain
  • Neglecting the principal
  • Abusing the principal
  • Mismanaging the principal’s assets

A power of attorney can be an important document for people to include in their estate plans. Unfortunately, some agents abuse their authority and act in ways that could harm the principal. If an agent or attorney-in-fact abuses their authority, or the principal was incompetent at the time the document was signed, family members can challenge the POA.