June 07, 2018

What is financial exploitation, and how can a power of attorney document help or hurt your chances of becoming a victim of financial exploitation?

Financial exploitation is a serious problem affecting senior citizens in West Virginia. Financial exploitation is defined in West Virginia Code §55-7J-1 as “the intentional misappropriation or misuse of funds or assets of an elderly person, protected person, or incapacitated adult. . .”

Anyone may try to take financial advantage of a vulnerable senior citizen. Often, the financial exploitation is perpetrated by someone close to the victim, such as a friend, caretaker, or even a family member. It is easiest for a perpetrator to take advantage of a victim when the perpetrator is in a position of trust. This is why financial powers of attorney documents are often involved in these cases.

A financial power of attorney is a legal instrument used to appoint an agent to assist with management of your finances and estate. Appointing someone as your agent under a financial, or durable, power of attorney gives that person a broad range of powers over your assets. It is a useful tool when you need someone to help you manage your finances and pay your bills, but it can be a very dangerous weapon when in the wrong hands.

Many seniors are signing powers of attorney papers without realizing how much power they are handing over to this other person. The appointed agent can use the power of attorney to access your bank account, write checks, or even sell your house.

One recent Legal Aid client had appointed his son as his agent using a durable power of attorney form his son had printed from the Internet. Over the course of a few years, the son sold the client’s car and house, and put the client in a nursing home. The client had no idea what his son had done with the money from selling the car and house. By the time Legal Aid became involved, the client had zero knowledge of the state of his finances, and therefore had zero control over them. Legal Aid was able to assist the client with revoking the power of attorney and regaining control of his assets.

If you are thinking about appointing a power of attorney, it can certainly be a useful thing to do. Just make sure you go about it in a safe manner. Go to an attorney. Do not use a form you find on the Internet. It is an important decision that can have huge consequences, and it is worth meeting with an attorney to make sure the document is drafted correctly, and that it reflects your wishes.

Also, consider a limited power of attorney. If there are only a few things you need help doing, the power of attorney can be drafted so that your appointed agent is only given the power to help you with those few things. It is not an all-or-nothing situation.

Learn more about other aspects of financial exploitation at: