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Don't be a Victim of a Power of Attorney

May 21, 2010 - Lisa Goehle

Don’t be a victim of a Power of Attorney

The Power of Attorney document is a very valuable and necessary document when used in accordance of the laws. However the Power of Attorney document can and is used as a weapon for exploitation.

Most people who sign a Power of Attorney don’t realize that once it is signed it is in effect. In my years of doing social services I have heard over and over again from victims that they didn’t know the document went into effect immediately. This makes a general or durable Power of Attorney very dangerous in the wrong hands.

In years past the Power of Attorney document had to be registered at the local county office. This is not longer true and without the document having to be registered the perpetrator that preys on the elderly can have multiply POAs. To make matter worse the document can be downloaded from the Internet, a fill in the blanks one can be purchased at most office supply stores. While it still requires the signature of the person giving the Power and their signature is required to be notarized by a Notary at the time of the signing. It has always amazed me who many times I have heard that there wasn’t a Notary present and yet the document was notarized.

Power of Attorneys are very useful and provide a family member or guardian the legal authority to pay bills, purchase needed items and generally maintain quality of care and life for the person who has signed the document. What many don’t understand is the document has to be signed by a person who is competent, free of coercion, under the influence of medication, anesthesia, or other medical treatments and doing so with full knowledge and understanding of the document. The document can be used immediately unless clearly stated in the document otherwise. Don’t trust someone to wait until you are unable to handle you own affairs.

Any individual who preys on the confused and isolated individual can use the POA as an “instant ticket to quick cash.” In many cases of suspected exploitation never get referred to law enforcement as the victims are embarrassed, afraid they will be considered incompetent because someone took advantage of them or so emotionally stressed over the loss of their finances they become depressed and even more isolated.

If you are taken advantage of by someone you need to report this to the proper authorities. I have seen lawn care individuals get POAs and even get deeds to homes. The housekeeper who asks to borrow money for car repairs or her child’s medications. The home repair person who needs money upfront and then never does the job or continues to borrow more and more. The home healthcare worker who becomes too involved and agrees to take care of the person until they pass, for a price of course.

I have always believed that people who are as I call them “career exploiters” are no different than a pedophile. They prey on the victim’s vulnerability by becoming their friend and using the isolation from friends and family as a means to control and exploit.

Don’t be a victim, report to the authorities persons who try to take advantage or have taken advantage of you. Local law enforcement offices have divisions called White Collar Crimes. These professional agents understand what you have gone through and know how to assist you. If you don’t report the crime the criminal gets bolder and bolder and will continue to exploit and not stopped.

If you are asked to sign a Power of Attorney, take you time read it over and over until you understand it. Don’t give POAs to casual acquaintances, debt collectors, or those you hired to do a job or assist you in your home. Always keep a copy of the document for yourself.

If you have signed a POA and wish to stop it, you have only to send a notarized letter stating you revoke the POA to the person who has the document.

Power of Attorney documents are a very useful and necessary part of life. Not everyone who gets the document will misuse it for their own financial gain. If you have questions you can call Florida Rural Legal Services Inc. at 239-334-4554, Lee County Bar Association for lawyer referral at 239-334-4491, the Elder Help Line at 866-505-4888, local Senior Centers have visiting attorneys and if you believe you have been taken, call Lee County Sheriffs Office at 239-477-1000.

Lisa J. Goehle





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