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Misuse of a durable power of attorney is elder abuse

As the average age of the country's population increases, so does the chance that someone will take advantage of an elderly person in Washington, DC. Elder abuse comes in many forms, but one that family members may be able to do something about is the misuse of a durable power of attorney (DPOA). Such an abuse may not result in physical harm, but it could result in irreparable financial harm that could affect how that elderly family member is cared for as he or she ages.

DPOAs allow an appointed agent to conduct the financial affairs of an individual in the event he or she is unable to handle those matters his- or herself. The hope is that the person appointed is trustworthy and will have the individual's best interests in mind. However, that is not always the case, and how a DPOA is structured could make all the difference.

Many DPOAs often give the attorney-in-fact broad powers, which could easily lead to abuse. These powers can be limited to protect the person giving the DPOA. The agent could be given the power to only deal with certain assets and accounts.

Further, it is possible to specify that a third party monitor the activities of the agent. With someone watching over him or her, it may reduce -- or eliminate -- the potential for taking advantage of the elderly person. In some cases, the agent may not really understand that his or her actions are detrimental.

Many people do not understand that they are not required to hand over their entire financial life to someone -- let alone do so without any restrictions or guidelines. When drafting a durable power of attorney, there is no harm in adding certain protections for the individual. Even if a Washington, DC resident implicitly trusts the person he or she is appointing, temptation or misguided intentions could easily cause harm. This makes it important to clearly understand all of the powers being granted when drafting these types of estate planning documents.

Source: chillicothegazette.com, "Knowing Power of Attorney can help curb elder abuse", Barbara Barrett, June 17, 2014

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