While awareness of elder abuse is on the rise, sadly, its prevalence is not falling. Spotting this kind of abuse is not all that easy though, because neglect and financial abuse may come under the guise of a Power of Attorney (POA).
Consider this possible scenario. Variations of this scenario happen more frequently than most people wish to believe.
After Maggie’s husband passes away, she works with a lawyer to draw up a Power of Attorney for both her personal care and her property — granting her son the ability to make medical decisions as well as manage her finances should she no longer be able to do so on her own.
In Maggie’s case, that time comes a few years later when she is diagnosed with dementia and requires regular care so that she can continue to live in her own home. Her son, however, proves to be less than capable when it comes to caring for his mother. He provides a minimal amount of care — far less than she needs to manage her day-to-day activities. He often neglects her and Maggie sometimes goes without proper meals. As her health deteriorates, she has no one to turn to because she is afraid and embarrassed by his behaviour. Worse yet, now that her son has access to her bank accounts, he takes money for his own purposes under the pretext of using it for his mother’s care. Maggie’s daughter, who lives out of town and comes to visit, notices the unusual transactions, investigates, and intervenes. But because Maggie now lacks the legal capacity to amend her POA, Maggie’s daughter has to enlist the aid of a lawyer and pay additional legal fees in order to have her brother legally removed from his position.
This story may sound extreme, but sadly, elder abuse in the shadows of a POA is all too common. By default, many people choose to appoint one of their children to act as their ‘attorney’ but that person may not always be the best suited to do so. Think about it, will your child be able to make life-or-death medical decisions on your behalf? Or, will your child be able to give you the personal care you need when you can no longer do things like bathe yourself?
Ask the same difficult questions when appointing your ‘attorney’ for property. Will your child be able to make the best decisions if one choice means cutting into their future inheritance?
This is not to say that entrusting your child to make decisions for you is the wrong choice — a POA abuser can be anyone, such as a so-called friend or neighbour or a trusted advisor — it’s just to say that it’s important to think long and hard about your decision. Power of Attorney for property and for personal care are two of the three most important documents every person needs (the third being a will). And the important decisions you need to make when choosing who will act for you cannot be made lightly.
Ask yourself the difficult questions that will help you anticipate the future and create a contingency plan in case your original plan goes wrong. All of this will give you the best chance at overcoming every obstacle before they even become a possibility and give you peace of mind in knowing that your best interests will truly be looked after.