THE DANGERS FACED BY THE ELDERLY WHEN SELECTING A POWER OF ATTORNEY

In the Bible, it mentions that the aging King David was in jeopardy of losing his kingdom to his son, Absalom.  Divine intervention saved King David’s kingdom and his son Absalom later died in an accident.  I thought about how powerless David must have felt. In fact, the Bible said that David felt humiliated. Remember, this was the same David, who in his youth, slayed the giant Goliath with his slingshot.

That feeling must be true for many of our elderly who are not their former selves and hoping that their loved ones will treat them with love and not taking advantage of them. This is why choosing someone to serve as your power of attorney is something that requires careful consideration and not sentimentality.  Many seniors are victims because of making decisions based on emotions rather than sheer logic and common sense.

There many cases of power of attorney scams. In Ohio, an elderly retired gentleman, lived alone with no immediate family. One day he suffered an injury that required his hospitalization. He knew he would be away from home for weeks and was worried about paying his bills. His nephew arrived at the hospital with flowers and an offer to help.  The next day the nephew showed up with a power of attorney, which his uncle signed. By the time the elderly man had returned home, his nephew had robbed him blind, using the power of attorney to close bank and investment accounts. Assuring his uncle he was merely keeping the money safe, the nephew had instead transferred the money to an accomplice, who in turn invested it in a mobile home development in South Carolina. When the uncle sued, the nephew maintained that his uncle had gifted him the money out of love and affection, and the power of attorney was evidence of the trust his uncle placed in him.

Another case occurred in Battle Creek, Michigan. A 92-year-old woman in Battle Creek says a neighbor she trusted has taken everything from her. Clint Stout was charged with embezzlement, but a Calhoun County judge says the man hasn’t done anything criminal. Clint Stout is charged with embezzlement over $20,000. This, by all accounts, started in March 2010 just after the death of Elizabeth Armour’s husband. The Stouts were given power of attorney and they apparently took advantage of the power in short order. Armour was moved out of her home the day after her husband’s funeral, and into a series of retirement homes. A police investigation turned up tens of thousands of dollars of questionable transactions and withdrawals from Armour’s account–including $3,600 marked as “Cash for Elizabeth,” which Armour told detectives she never received. Additionally, $17,000 that Clint Stout placed into a personal bank account, even though the power of attorney clearly states Armour’s funds “must never be mixed with your own.” When asked about the withdrawals, the detective says Stout “could not provide me with any reasonable explanation,” and said he wished to speak with an attorney. This is the part of the story is tragic. The judge who heard the case wrote in his finding that “the court is not persuaded the actions of the defendant are criminal. Unless prosecution can show the power of attorney was obtained through some fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” The judge cited one line in the power of attorney which reads “under no circumstances should my agents actions give rise to a criminal charge,

When you designate someone as your agent, the agent can handle financial and legal matters on your behalf in the event that you become physically or mentally incapacitated. This is why you have choose carefully because your agent will able handling many financial responsibilities.

If your spouse or partner is in very good health, you can designate him/her.  When choosing a close relative, make sure that this person is responsible with his/her financial matters.

It is important that if you choose a close relative who is living with you and you are living with another relative, please make sure you file your documents with your bank and/or broker.  Having a power of attorney is not useful if the bank or broker does not  know about.

You should also be aware that you have the right to revoke your document anytime you choose.  You should can also limit the responsibilities of your agent if you do not feel comfortable about some matters.

You should definitely seek an attorney who specializes is elder and estate law matters.  if you cannot find an attorney, contact the local bar association in your area and inquire about speaking to an elder and estate law attorney.

As always, please report any incidents of elder abuse to the local authorities.  The website for the National Center on Elder Abuse is http://www.ncea.aoa.gov.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions.

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