ANCHORAGE - Sarah Palin, the former Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate, will step down as Alaska's governor on Sunday with her political future clouded by ethics probes, legal bills and dwindling popularity.

Palin made a surprise decision on July 3 that she would resign, raising questions about her next move and whether she was planning to mount a run for president.

She has cited a variety of reasons for quitting -- the burden of fighting nearly two dozen ethics charges, which she has dismissed as frivolous, her desire to avoid being perceived as a powerless lame-duck governor, and a higher calling, among others.

The handover to Alaska Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell will take place at an annual picnic hosted by the governor in Fairbanks, where Palin intends to deliver a farewell speech and Parnell will take the oath of office.

This year's Fairbanks picnic, usually a low-key event, will be attended by armies of national reporters and camera crews.

Making time for family or to address legal issues could have pushed Palin to resign, said Michael Josephson, a former law professor in California who regularly advises Alaska lawmakers on ethics issues

The problem is she hasn't been as coherent or clear as I would have liked her to be, Josephson said.

Palin's ethics woes have helped batter her image. A new Washington Post-ABC poll puts her favorability rating at 40 percent, with 53 percent giving her an unfavorable rating.

Her official legal-defense fund, formed to help Palin pay more than $500,000 in lawyers' costs, is itself an ethics violation because it uses her state government job for personal financial benefit, according to a report from an independent investigator hired by the state.

Although Palin still has devoted followers who want her to run for president, that notion is scorned by many political experts.

I think she might run. I don't see how she would win, said Michael Carey, a political columnist, broadcasting host and former Anchorage Daily News editorial writer. I don't see how you win the presidency with 'Quitter' on your resume.

Palin has signed a book deal for an autobiography to be published next spring and has been touted as a possible TV talk-show host.

(Editing by Peter Henderson and Chris Wilson)