Power of Attorney and Elder Abuse: Why Seniors Are at Risk

When someone with power of attorney uses it to steal money from a senior, it may be considered abuse. Lawyers, family members, friends, nursing home staff, and even strangers can commit this type of elder abuse. Know the signs so that you can identify and stop power of attorney elder abuse before it has lasting consequences.

What Is Power of Attorney Abuse?

Power of attorney allows someone to make financial and legal decisions for another person. Those with power of attorney (known as agents) are expected to act in the best interest of those they represent (known as principals), but this does not always happen.

Agents can sometimes use the power of attorney for their own financial gain by stealing money from the principal. This is known as power of attorney abuse.

Seniors are especially at risk of power of attorney abuse because:

  • They may have mental or physical impairments that prevent them from managing their own well-being
  • They may give their power of attorney to someone they can’t trust
  • There is generally poor regulation/accountability for power of attorney

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), powers of attorney are usually not subject to any oversight by a court or a third party. This means those with power of attorney can abuse it for months or even years before getting caught.

If you believe that your loved one may be at risk of power of attorney abuse, it is important to know the signs and take action.

Who Can Commit Power of Attorney Elder Abuse?

Anyone with a senior’s power of attorney can abuse it, including lawyers, friends, family members, or even strangers. Find some examples below.

Lawyers

Seniors may give lawyers their power of attorney because they seem qualified and trustworthy. This does not mean that all lawyers can be trusted. Lawyers can use their legal knowledge to abuse a senior’s power of attorney and avoid detection.

In one case, a Pennsylvania attorney stole over $500,000 from the estate of an elderly client who suffered from dementia. He stole the money over a period of three years before being caught. The lawyer was disbarred and sentenced to 33 months in federal prison in 2018.

Family Members

Elders often grant the power of attorney to grown children or other trusted family members. Family members can sometimes betray this trust and drain a senior’s hard-earned savings using the power of attorney.

In one case, a senior’s daughter abused the power of attorney to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in withdrawals, leaving only a few thousand dollars left. This left the senior destitute and financially destroyed.

In a recent interview, the senior’s son said he watched his father cry over the situation.

The senior’s other children are currently taking legal action against their sister.

Strangers

Seniors can even be at risk of losing their hard-earned money to people they don’t even know through power of attorney abuse.

In one case, a 93-year-old Florida senior signed his power of attorney over to a woman who his nursing home called to take over his affairs.

With no close family to help watch over his affairs, the woman was able to allegedly steal over $500,000.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the senior suffered from dementia and may not have been able to even understand he had signed his power of attorney away.

Nursing home neglect may have also taken place in this situation since staff members failed to keep the resident from being exploited.

Signs of Power of Attorney Elder Abuse

Noting the following signs can help prevent the negative consequences of elder financial abuse.

Signs of power of attorney elder abuse include:

  • Strange or unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts
  • The person with power of attorney prevents the elder/others from seeing bank statements
  • The elder is isolated friends/family by the person with power of attorney

If any of these signs are noticed, family members should take swift action to keep a senior safe and to protect their financial assets.

Power of Attorney Elder Abuse Consequences

Power of attorney abuse doesn’t just harm seniors financially — it can also cause damage to their mental and emotional health.

Negative consequences of financial abuse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor mental and physical health

In one example from the ABA, a daughter stole her elderly mother’s entire life savings within a year’s time. The senior tried to recover her money but was unable to do so and died out of hopelessness.

Other Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

Power of attorney abuse is just one way that seniors can be financially exploited. Financial abuse is a huge problem affecting seniors today.

Elder financial abuse can also occur when someone:

  • Forces a senior to sign checks or money orders
  • Adds themself to a senior’s bank account
  • Changes a senior’s will for their benefit
  • Uses an elder’s credit card without their knowledge

Caregivers and loved ones can also keep a lookout for these issues even if a senior has not transferred their power of attorney. Family members can also learn more about elder and nursing home abuse to keep seniors safe.

Protect Against Power of Attorney Elder Abuse

Seniors should always discuss their options with trusted family members and legal professionals before transferring their power of attorney.

If the power of attorney must be transferred, the ideal candidate should be someone that the senior has known and trusted for a long time.

Seniors who are mentally sound should know how to revoke the power of attorney if possible. Their family members should also know what to do if a senior one cannot revoke their power of attorney. Seniors and family members can learn about these options by talking to a lawyer.

If power of attorney elder abuse is suspected, call the local authorities immediately. You can also contact us to learn more about power of attorney abuse. Our Patient Advocates can help you understand your options if a loved one might be at risk of financial abuse.

Author:Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team
Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team

Nursing Home Abuse Justice was founded to shine a light on nursing home and elder abuse. Every day, thousands of people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are abused. Our team helps educate seniors and their loved ones on the common causes, signs and preventions of nursing home abuse. We report on real-world studies and current events from respected news outlets to expose this national problem.

Last modified: August 21, 2020

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  2. Harries, P., Davies, M., Gilhooly, K., Gilhooly, M., & Tomlinson, C. (2014). Educating novice practitioners to detect elder financial abuse: A randomised controlled trial. BMC Medical Education, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-21

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