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Power of Attorney Abuse

One simple mistake nearly cost an elderly widower everything.


$3,000 may not be a fortune for some people, but for someone like Mr. Jones, in his 80s and on a fixed income, $3,000 would be a devastating loss.

But because of a relative’s abuse of their Power of Attorney, Mr. Jones came very close to losing it all.

Names, dollar amounts, and other details in this story have been changed to protect anyone involved.

It started when Mr. Jones had a health problem that required him to stay in a nursing home for over a month as a part of his rehab. Like a lot of people his age, Mr. Jones lives on a very fixed income. His social security check comes in each month, he deposits it into his checking account, and then writes checks to pay the various bills he has around town. That’s right, no debit card. Just checks.

Once he learned he would be in rehab for over a month, he knew he would need someone to act on his behalf to take care of his finances. Mr. Jones is a widower, and his children live in other states, too far away to help with this matter. Now he’s rushing to find an answer to the question, who can he trust?

This is a common mistake, but one that’s easily avoided. As loved ones age it becomes more likely that they will have some kind of medical emergency that will leave them unable to care for their finances. Instead of waiting, plan ahead! Talk with your elderly family members about who they would like to act on their behalf when the time comes. Once a decision is made, have the paperwork prepared so everything is in order, and let everyone involved know what the decision is.

So, feeling the pressure, Mr. Jones asked his niece who lived nearby for help. He had a power of attorney document created, assigning her to act on his behalf. That’s when things went south. Instead of managing Mr. Jones’ accounts as instructed, she immediately started withdrawing money at ATMs and making purchases all over town with the new debit card she had issued on his behalf. She also went to the Property Appraiser’s office and had the deeds to multiple pieces of property transferred to her name and her children’s names.

This is another common mistake made with Power of Attorney documents. Once the POA has been assigned, protect yourself from abuse by letting other people know what’s going on so they can look out for any potential abuse. As the Consumer Financial Protection Board says, “Trust, but verify. Only appoint someone you can really trust and make sure they know your wishes and preferences. You can require in your POA that your agent regularly reports to another person on the financial transactions he or she makes on your behalf.”

Mr. Jones’ story has a happy ending, but it’s the exception to the rule. Eventually, Mr. Jones caught wind of what his niece was doing and revoked the POA. The bank noticed the abuse and reported it to the local sheriff. The niece was arrested and under threat of prosecution returned nearly all of the money and all of the property.

Which brings us to two final thoughts. First, be very careful who you select as your Power of Attorney. Remember, you are giving them the power to completely control your finances. Second, be very cautious of anyone coming to you and asking you to grant them Power of Attorney. The person may have a convincing story, or claim to know you from many years before. They may also sound genuine as if they really want to help. But you should only grant this power to someone you know and trust.

If you have questions or need any assistance, call your local branch and ask to talk with someone about possible Power of Attorney abuse.


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