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Power of attorney abuse | Don't let it happen to your elder

A power of attorney is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to estate planning. It can serve, support and protect a person's very best interests. However, in the wrong hands, a power of attorney can create an obstacle-free pathway to elder financial abuse.

It is safe to say that almost no British Columbia citizen would knowingly place such a powerful tool in the hands of the wrong person, but it can and does happen, unfortunately. When family members suspect the "attorney" has begun abusing his or her authority, it can be devastating for all involved.

It can be hard to spot power of attorney abuse, especially if you are not directly involved in your family member's financial situations. To help you identify potential abuse, here are a few examples of power of attorney misuse:

-- Using the power of attorney for personal gain instead of for the elder's benefit

-- Coercing or forcing an elder into creating a power of attorney

-- Forging the elder's name on a power of attorney, cheques and other documents

-- Withdrawing money from financial accounts without permission

-- Essentially treating the elder's money and property as if it belonged to the attorney

One way to circumvent the risks associated with a power of attorney is to impose limitations on the scope of the attorney's authority. Another option is to make sure the document gives third parties the ability to exercise at least some supervision over the attorney. You should know that a lawyer can help you prepare a power of attorney that will prevent or reduce abuse. If the abuse is already happening, a lawyer may also advise you about how to revoke a power of attorney.

Source: BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support, "Abuse of a Power of Attorney," accessed April 19, 2016

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