June 27, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Power of Attorney Document Did Not Authorize Agent to Liquidate Principal’s Assets

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stell on November 7, 2013.

Power of Attorney—Fiduciary Duty—Without Authorization—Theft by Deception.

The People appealed the dismissal of counts one, two, and four, as well as part of count three, of the indictment against defendant Geoffrey Hunt Stell. The Court of Appeals reversed the order and remanded the case with directions.

The victim executed a power of attorney (POA) naming Stell, who is the victim’s son, as his agent. The POA gave Stell broad general powers over the victim’s property. According to the indictment, Stell had liquidated all of the victim’s property for his own personal use. Stell filed a motion to dismiss counts one through four of the indictment, asserting that he had the legal authority to spend, transfer, and liquidate the assets in question pursuant to the POA. The trial court granted the motion.

On appeal, the People contended that the district court erred in concluding, as a matter of law, that the POA authorized Stell to liquidate all of the victim’s assets and to use them for his own benefit. Although the POA provided broad general powers, several provisions of the POA suggest the victim’s intent that Stell would act on the victim’s behalf, as opposed to in his own interest. Therefore, proof of the “without authorization” element of the theft charges at issue should have been given to the jury to decide.

The People further contended that regardless of whether Stell acted without authorization, the district court erred in dismissing count four of the indictment because that count separately alleged theft by deception, and the evidence supports such a charge. Even if Stell was authorized to transfer the victim’s assets to a trust, he still could have committed theft by deception if he fraudulently induced the victim to sign the trust agreement that allowed Stell to facilitate a theft. Therefore, the evidence could potentially have supported such a charge, regardless of any authorization under the POA. Accordingly, the district court erred in dismissing count four.

Summary and full case available here.

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