Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Spokane Estate Planning, Elder Law & Probate Lawyer
Three Washington Locations To Serve You Spokane Valley Kennewick Yakima
Spokane Estate & Probate Lawyers / Blog / Power of Attorney / Understanding the Limits of a Washington Power of Attorney

Understanding the Limits of a Washington Power of Attorney


A Washington power of attorney enables you to appoint someone to act as your agent. Some powers of attorney are limited in scope. For example, you might appoint someone as your agent to sell a piece of real estate on your behalf. A general power of attorney, in contrast, grants your agent broad authority to manage your property and financial affairs.

It is important to emphasize, however, that the agent owes you a fiduciary duty. That is to say, the agent must act in your interests, not their own. And a power of attorney is not a substitute for your own judgment. If you are legally competent to manage your affairs, you are free to override or even revoke your agent’s authority under a power of attorney.

Father, Daughter End Up in Court Over Revoked Power of Attorney

A recent decision from the Washington Court of Appeals, Phillips v. Wagner, illustrates what can go wrong when an agent assumes they have more authority than they do. The parties to this case were a father and daughter. After the father’s wife–the daughter’s mother–died, he informed the daughter that he was not her biological father.

About a year after her mother’s death, the daughter convinced her father to sign a power of attorney granting her broad authority over his affairs. Shortly thereafter, the father went to visit family in California. During this time, the daughter removed several legal documents and personal effects from her father’s home, including her mother’s ashes. The daughter then used her authority as agent to add her name to the title of the father’s house and car, which she later said was “to help save him.”

After the father returned from California, however, he demanded his daughter return the property she had taken from the house. He revoked his power of attorney and hired a lawyer, who in turn sent a demand letter to the daughter and her husband, again seeking return of the items taken from the house.

The father then went a step further and asked a Washington judge to issue a vulnerable adult protection order (VAPO), a type of restraining order used against persons who financially exploit a vulnerable adult. The court issued a temporary VAPO and ordered the daughter to return what she had taken. The daughter complied.

At a subsequent hearing, the trial judge chided the daughter, stating “it’s not your job to protect [your father] from himself if no court has said he’s not capable of managing his own affairs.” Nevertheless, since the daughter returned all of her father’s property, the court found there was no longer any need for the VAPO. The father appealed that ruling. The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed. The appellate court added that while the daughter’s initial actions were within the scope of the power of attorney, once the father revoked that authority, the daughter had no choice but to return the property.

Contact a Spokane Power of Attorney Lawyer Today

A power of attorney is a powerful and important estate planning tool. But it must be exercised with appropriate discretion and in accordance with Washington law. If you need advice regarding a Washington power of attorney, contact Moulton Law Offices, P.S., today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout the Spokane Valley, Kennewick, and Yakima area.



Facebook Twitter LinkedIn