A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives another person the authority to act on your behalf in personal, financial or legal matters. An agent who has been granted POA, called an attorney-in-fact, may be regarded as abusing their position by not acting in the principal’s best interests or showing malicious intent.
Power of attorney misconduct can cause severe financial, physical and/or emotional harm to the principal, so it’s important to be aware of the signs of abuse and take immediate action if you suspect an agent to be misusing their power. If you need help proving power of attorney abuse, recovering stolen property or damages from the agent, or defending a claim of POA abuse that was brought against you, contact a Keystone power of attorney abuse lawyer today.
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Power of attorney misconduct occurs when the legal document that allows an attorney-in-fact to act on a principal’s behalf is not followed or misused. This type of misconduct can include anything from financial exploitation and fraud to negligence.
There are many different kinds of power of attorney, and each comes with its own set of guidelines; however, all of them authorize the agent, known as an attorney-in-fact, to make certain decisions or take certain actions on behalf of the principal. While a power of attorney document can be used for a variety of purposes, many use it to appoint someone they trust to manage their affairs should they ever become incapacitated. This type of document is a popular estate planning tool because of its benefits, which include the principal being able to select a person of their choosing to manage their personal decisions and finances (as opposed to the court appointing a conservator); the issue of power of attorney abuse only comes into play when the power an attorney-in-fact has been granted is being misused.
If you suspect that the person appointed as your or your loved one’s agent is misusing their authority, it is important to act quickly. If you have concerns about power of attorney abuse and you are mentally competent, you can simply revoke your POA; however, contesting a power of attorney on the principal’s behalf may be necessary if the principal is no longer competent, as they are would not be permitted by the law to revoke it themselves. If your POA abuse claim is heard, it can open the door to other legal actions, such as the establishment of a conservatorship, to protect your loved one and their finances.
As a POA, you are responsible for making personal, financial and/or legal decisions on behalf of another person. This can be an especially daunting task if you are not familiar with POA laws and how to navigate the legal, medical and financial systems. Keystone’s skilled abuse of power of attorney lawyers help you understand your responsibilities so you can make informed decisions for the principal and avoid becoming the subject of power of attorney abuse claims. We can provide support and guidance as you navigate your new role to help protect you against liabilities and ensure you are acting in the principal’s best interests at all times.
One of the first things our POA abuse lawyers will do is to help you interpret the terms of the power of attorney document. Each POA document is different, so it is important you understand exactly what powers you have been granted and where your limitations lie. For example, you may only have limited authority to handle specific financial matters for the principal, such as paying bills or managing investments, or you may have broad authority to handle all of the principal’s financial affairs. Likewise, if you are a power of attorney for health care, you may be authorized to make certain medical decisions for the principal, like consenting to emergency medical procedures, but not others, without first seeking approval from the court.
If an agent oversteps the authority they have been granted, or if they do not abide by the procedure prescribed by the POA document for making decisions, their actions may constitute power of attorney misconduct. This is why having an attorney interpret the POA document is an important first step for all attorneys-in-fact.
As previously mentioned, if you are unhappy with your POA and you are mentally competent, then you can simply revoke the POA in the presence of a notary to end it.
Conversely, if a person who is incapacitated has a POA, and the designated attorney-in-fact is allegedly abusing them, then a competent adult, whether that be the principal’s relative or their friend, can contest the POA to try to have it revoked. If the principal is incapacitated, and the court agrees to revoke the POA, then it may be necessary to establish a to protect their personal and financial interests, as appointing a new POA would not be an option. In California, for a POA document to be valid, it must be signed by a principal who is mentally competent.
Our experienced attorneys can help you gather evidence of fiduciary misconduct to build a strong case to convince the court to revoke the power of attorney document.
If POA abuse had been committed, and it resulted in the principal’s money or property being stolen, or in the principal suffering health consequences, then it may be possible to sue the POA agent to recover the stolen assets, as well as damages when applicable. A Keystone POA lawyer can help gather evidence to prove the extent of the damage resulting from the abuse and help secure for you a favorable outcome in court.
If you are not sure why a power of attorney misconduct claim has been brought against you, you may have been wrongfully accused of abuse. Not all power of attorney misconduct claims are valid, especially if a POA agent acted in good faith. Sometimes, an informed financial decision you make on behalf of the principal causes them to lose money, but it’s not because you had malicious intent, made an uninformed decision or were personally trying to gain from their loss. Similarly, perhaps you made a medical decision for the principal that exacerbated their condition, but you were only following their physician’s advice. Neither of these scenarios would necessarily signal power of attorney abuse; nevertheless, a principal’s family and friends may still place the blame on you.
Even if you believe you are not at fault, it is recommended you have a power of attorney lawyer representing you. When abuse is successfully proven, attorneys-in-fact may be held liable for compensating the principal for any damage they caused from their own pockets.
Because power of attorney documents are often included in people’s estate plans, the power of attorney lawyers at Keystone receive questions from its clients daily surrounding power of attorney misconduct. We have answered the most frequently asked questions below.
There are many signs of conservatorship abuse and they vary depending on the type of abuse. Some common things to look out for include bruises or injuries, sudden weight loss, changes in behavior, isolation from family and friends, and financial irregularities.
There are many forms of POA abuse, and it is not uncommon for more than one form of abuse to be perpetrated against the principal. Some of the most common include:
Many types of evidence can be used in proving power of attorney abuse, including financial records, medical documentation and eyewitness testimony, among other things. Ultimately, contesting a power of attorney due to abuse will come down to the type of abuse that was committed. For example, if a principal had a health care POA who was abusing them by withholding medical care, then the principal’s physicians may be able to attest to how the principal’s health has declined as a result of the POA’s actions. If a POA was stealing money from the principal’s bank accounts, then bank statements may be sufficient in proving the POA misconduct.
Contact Keystone if you need help gathering and presenting the necessary evidence to support your case.
In fact, what is unfortunate is that this power of attorney misconduct often goes undetected until the principal’s estate or trust is accounting for the principal’s assets and discovers money or property to be missing. Thankfully, even if the principal cannot reap the benefits of successful litigation themselves, it will benefit those who stand to inherit from them.
Read this case study about how Keystone recovered millions of dollars’ worth of stolen money and property from a decedent’s abusers, who used POAs to gain access to his finances.
If you suspect that a principal has been abused or neglected by their POA agent, you should contact local law enforcement or Adult Protective Services, especially if the principal or their finances are under immediate threat. If the abuse poses no immediate threat to the principal, you can file a complaint with the California Office of the Attorney General. A power of attorney lawyer can help you with this process.
It is also crucial to consult with a POA lawyer in the event the principal needs to recover stolen property and damages, or in case a responsible adult, such as a conservator, is needed to manage their health care and/or finances once their POA agent is removed. The process of establishing a conservatorship can be complicated, but with a lawyer on your team, you can ensure that it will be handled as efficiently as possible.