By Attorney David Engler
Aside from flat-out driving an incompetent victim to their bank and taking their money, the first choice of the thief is the power of attorney.
A Power of attorneys is recognized in every state and there is little to no regulation of its use. In most states the only time it is recorded is when real estate is being transferred. There should be extreme caution given by any professional who drafts a power of attorney. Care should be taken to truly understand not only if the signer is competent, but is the person being coerced even if subtly.
As a lawyer I have seen power of attorneys given to care givers who might have come into the elderly person’s life because they were hired. The constant contact with the person presents an opportunity for the caretaker to overstep their role. This is yet another good reason why family members should choose a person who is a registered guardian. It is a far better course of action to choose a stranger who is trained and bonded than checking the inventory at death to find out all the assets were depleted.
The power of attorney most often survives incompetency if it was drafted within the last 20 years. It is true that there is plenty of case-law indicating that a person cannot use a power of attorney for their own benefit, but self-dealing is usually not detected or discovered too late. By then assets are gone and usually unrecoverable.
As part of planning for the care of your mother or father or other person who seems unable to handle their own finances because of mental or physical reasons, a good start is to ask if there are any power of attorneys out there and better yet send a notice of revocation to all the banks with which the person might be doing business.