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Power of Attorney Does Not Always Avoid Conservatorship

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Like many seniors, Robert Anderson signed a financial power of attorney, giving his daughter and son-in-law power to manage his financial affairs. He may have understood that the power of attorney would avoid the necessity of court proceedings to appoint a conservator if he became incapacitated. Having a power of attorney, as it turned out, was not an effective way to avoid court involvement.

At first Mr. Anderson appointed his son Sam as his agent. Mr. Anderson’s estate was large, and so for two years Sam used the power of attorney to make gifts of his father’s property to himself, his sister Barbara, and both his and his sister’s children.

When Sam died unexpectedly, Mr. Anderson signed a new power of attorney. This time he named his daughter Barbara Lasen and her husband Paul as agents. Barbara and Paul continued to make gifts from Mr. Anderson’s property for the next two years—but now Sam’s children were excluded. In addition Barbara and Paul used Mr. Anderson’s residence and vacation home without paying any rent. Nothing in Mr. Anderson’s power of attorney permitted gifts, but Barbara and Paul insisted that they had discussed the gifts with Mr. Anderson and he had agreed.

Sam’s two daughters finally decided that enough was enough, and they filed a conservatorship petition. They asked the court to appoint a local bank to act as Mr. Anderson’s conservator. Barbara and Paul objected, arguing that no conservator was necessary because Mr. Anderson had given them the power of attorney. They also argued that they had priority to act as conservator if the court decided appointment of a conservator was appropriate.

The trial judge decided that Barbara and Paul had overstepped their authority as agents, and appointed a local bank as conservator. Barbara and Paul appealed.

The Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with the lower court. Barbara and Paul did not have the authority to make gifts because there was no specific language in the power of attorney. Once they violated their duties as agents under the power of attorney it was entirely appropriate to appoint an independent conservator to consider what steps to take—including possible action against Barbara and Paul for return of the money they had wrongfully taken from Mr. Anderson. Besides, Barbara and Paul had already shown that they were not trustworthy protectors of Mr. Anderson’s assets. Conservatorship of Anderson, June 22, 2001.

The result would likely have been the same under Arizona law. As in Nebraska, an Arizona agent may not make gifts using a power of attorney unless the authority to do so is clearly spelled out in the document (and, in fact, separately initialed by the principal). Mr. Anderson would almost certainly have had a conservator appointed if he lived in Arizona.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.