Police campaign targets POA theft

A police service in Alberta is doing its bit to raise awareness of thefts by power of attorney.  

Following a recent spate of elder abuse cases, the Edmonton Police Service aired commercials on local stations as part of an education campaign reminding citizens that exploiting seniors through their POA is a criminal offence. 

In one recent case, the police force discovered a family member had been transferring funds out of an elderly relative’s bank account after a payment to their long-term care facility came up short, but a spokesperson told Global News that they believe many more incidents go unreported. 

Instead, families typically have to wait until the death of the POA grantor before discovering the true extent of the theft.  

“Victims of theft undertaken by their appointed power of attorney are often reluctant to accept that one of their children, a member of their extended family or a life-long friend would steal from them,” Det. Alfred Ma, a member of the EPS’ senior protection unit told the news outlet. 

Elder abuse and POA theft are not just Alberta issues. Last summer, the Thunder Bay Police Service issued a similar warning after laying a charge of theft by power of attorney under the Criminal Code, which prohibits the fraudulent sale of property or conversion of the proceeds for an unintended purpose.  

According to a news release, the service accused a 47-year-old of using his position as his elderly mother’s attorney for property to divert more than $80,000 in funds intended for her daily needs and care. 

The plain but powerful nature of POAs, which can be drawn up with exceptional ease and speed, places them among the most underrated instruments in the legal world, considering how critical they can become to the grantor’s life. 

Other than making a will, attorneys are empowered to do virtually anything the grantor could with their own property – handing the appointee control over everything from the person’s home and its contents to their bank accounts, investments and other financial holdings. 

But on the downside, not everyone can be trusted to handle the extraordinary power granted by a POA and grantors expose themselves to significant risk of abuse if they end up picking an unscrupulous attorney.  

Sadly, Canadians are not lacking for elder abuse stories, wherever in the country they are based. Still, POA theft remains at the extreme end of concerns for those of us who practice in 

the area, and the mere potential for abuse is no reason to stop people from appointing their own attorneys for property and personal care, since the benefits of properly drafted POAs hopefully still outweigh the risks. 

In fact, some of the saddest cases I have seen over the years revolve around the absence of POA appointments by older people who never realized they needed one before it was too late.  

POAs are designed to kick in when a person becomes incapable of handling their own affairs, which means you need to have them in place ahead of time. Once a person reaches the point of incapability, they can no longer sign a valid POA, which can leave family members in a very tricky position. 

The whole process can become quite expensive if the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee has to become involved, and the court ends up making final decisions.  

Although they don’t get a say over finances, attorneys for personal care also carry heavy responsibilities, taking decisions over the person’s health care broadly, including nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and safety. 

You don’t have to pick the same person to perform both roles, but each document carries extraordinary power, so whoever you do choose to appoint should be someone you have absolute faith in.  

Disclaimer: The content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this website are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.