Abusing a power of attorney is a crime


People in California may have heard a lot about elder abuse and tragic stories of people having their life savings wiped out by someone who has taken advantage of them financially. Unfortunately in many of these cases, the damage may already largely have been done by the time the financial fraud or abuse is discovered, but there are remedies, both criminal and civil, for victims of financial abuse and their families.

Naming an agent responsible for handling a person's Power of Attorney, or POA, is always a crucial decision, and should never be taken lightly. The agent may be granted powers of attorney for specific purposes, or the agent may be entrusted with the ever-powerful durable power of attorney which cannot be revoked once granted. Choosing the agent, and limiting their authority, is a decision that requires a lot of thought, and before granting a POA a person should always consult with an experienced estates and trusts attorney about their legal options and the ramifications of their decisions.

Unfortunately, the problem of POA abuse, when an agent abuses their power to enrich themselves or others against the wishes of the principal, is rampant. Part of the problem may be exacerbated when a person waits until too late and an urgent situation arises, forcing them to make a hasty decision and entrust an agent they might not have selected if given the time and opportunity to fully explore their options. To avoid this, people should consider appointing a limited power of attorney in a person they fully trust, even before it may seem imminently important. The upside is that they are prepared, and they can always amend their POA at any time prior to incapacitation.

People who have suffered POA abuse should talk to an experienced California attorney about their civil remedies, including gaining restitution from the abuser or invalidating or stopping transactions made by the abuser. In many cases, the abuser may have committed other criminal acts, including fraud, theft embezzlement and forgery, and law enforcement should be contacted to ensure that the POOA abuser is held fully accountable for their misdeeds.

Source: NCEA.org, "Durable Power of Attorney Abuse," accessed on Dec. 29, 2014

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