Franzen v. Norwest Bank Colorado
955 P.2d 1018 (1998)

  • Franzen created a $75k inter vivos trust to provide for himself and his wife, Frances. Norwest Bank was the trustee. Franzen died soon after.
    • The trust had a clause that when Franzen died, his wife could take all the trust assets. If she did not do so, then the trust would continue.
    • Frances decided to keep the trust going.
  • Norwest was concerned about assets not included in the trust, and asked Franzen’s nephews who were remaindermen to help out. Eventually, Frances’ brother James stepped in and asked Norwest to turn over the trust assets to him.
    • James had a power of attorney document signed by Frances. This document allowed him to act on her behalf, and since she had the power to dissolve the trust, he technically had the power to dissolve the trust on her behalf.
  • Norwest refused to comply with James’ request, since the nephews told Norwest that James’ motives were not to be trusted. James moved to have Norwest removed as a trustee.
    • Norwest argued that there was a Colorado law saying that in order to revoke a trust, the power of attorney must specifically refer to the particular trust.
      • However, this law was enacted after the power of attorney was signed.
      • This law was probably enacted because the trustees (who stood to lose money when trusts were dissolved) has good lobbyists.
  • The Probate Court found that the power of attorney was valid, but that James did not have the authority to dissolve the trust. James appealed.
    • Norwest argued that the power of attorney did no specifically mention the trust, and therefore it was outside the scope of his powers.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and found that James’ power of attorney did give him the ability to dissolve the trust. Norwest appealed.
  • The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court.
    • The power of attorney document did give James the general ability to manage trust and other investments. So the trust in question was covered even though it wasn’t specifically mentioned.
    • The Court said that since Norwest was acting in their legitimate capacity as a trustee, all the attorney’s fees should be paid out of the trust assets.
  • In general, a power of attorney that appears to give the agent sweeping powers to dispose of the principal’s (Frances) property is to be narrowly construed. However, the principal may confer authority to amend or revoke trusts on an agent without referring to the trusts by name in the power of attorney.