Abuse of a Power of Attorney is a Crime

According to the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, too many criminal justice professionals lack awareness in the role they can play in holding offenders accountable. An agent who violates the duty owed to the principal may have committee one or more crimes. The agent may have violated state and federal laws, including laws on

  • Exploitation
  • Embezzlement
  • Forgery
  • Fraud (e.g. credit card fraud, tax fraud, welfare fraud)
  • Larceny
  • Money Laundering
  • Theft

The National Center on Elder Abuse provides resources for social service agencies and the justice system. They help with response and prevention strategies for elder and vulnerable adult abuse. While mistreatment of the elderly and adults with disabilities have traditionally been viewed as family matters, criminal justice systems are adapting to better address elder abuse and neglect as a criminal issue.

 

AARP’s Public Policy Institute has produced a report written by Lori A. Stiegel and Ellen M. Klem of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. The report explores the problem of the abuse of powers of attorney and how state legislatures can provide protection. The report can be downloaded here.

Also, see a National Center of Elder Abuse Fact Sheet: Durable Power of Attorney Abuse: It’s a Crime Too.

 

Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Office of the District Attorney investigates and prosecutes elder abuse. In addition, abuse can be reported at the Lancaster County Office of Aging

Who Has Standing to Challenge the Actions of an Agent Under a Power of Attorney?

Recent changes were made to Pennsylvania's power of attorney statute by Act 95 which was enacted in 2014 and amended Title 20, Chapter 56 of the PEF Code. All of the Act's provisions have been effective since January 1, 2015.

PEF Code Section 5601.3(d)(1) provides that an agent shall not be required to disclose receipts, disbursements or transactions conducted on behalf of the principal unless ordered by the court, during the principal's lifetime requested by the principal, the principal's guardian, another fiduciary for the principal or a governmental agency, and after the death of the principal by the personal representative or a successor in interest to the principal's estate.

The statute does not require an agent to disclose receipts, disbursements or transactions to an heir of the principal or a beneficiary under the principal's will.

What to do? Petition to have a guardian appointed for the principal. The guardian clearly has standing. But this route has its own risks. What if the Petition is not granted and no guardian is appointed? Might the principal retaliate, for example, by disinheriting the petitioner?

We need more tools and more ways to hold agents accountable. The PA Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force suggested additional people be given legal standing to challenge the actions of someone given power of attorney.  You can read the full report here. The task force noted that nearly half the states provide legal standing to others interested in the welfare of someone who has a power of attorney handling their affairs. It said that allowing more people to challenge a power of attorney's actions could protect people from abuse.

Former Caretaker Convicted of Ripping Off Elderly Woman

The Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register reports:

"Sandra Gayle, 65, of Springfield was convicted of financial exploitation of the elderly and financial exploitation of a person with a disability. A Sangamon County jury deliberated a little more than an hour Friday before returning the verdict.

Prosecutors introduced testimony over the course of the four-day trial to show that Gayle used her own family to gain the trust of the doctor. Gayle, who had the victim’s power of attorney, then “gifted” easily more than $300,000 from the doctor’s bank account to herself, relatives and friends, testimony indicated.

Gayle could receive from 4 to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced Nov. 19 by Associate Judge John Mehlick. Her crimes also are probationable."

Perhaps the most shocking piece of the news is that State's Attorney Jay Magnuson stated that  the Gayle case is the first financial exploitation of the elderly case to go to trial in Sangamon County in the 14 years he has been a prosecutor here.  Think about it.  How many cases have you seen of this type of abuse?  It's time to get serious and stop this crime.

Hat tip to Estate of Denial

 

 

Probate Predators: Some fairy tales hit too close to home

 

Thank you to Stephan Worrall for sharing this Non Sequitor cartoon:  

Click here for the Estate lawyer's version of Little Red Riding Hood.

 

 

 

 

 

                                       Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License