A recent article in the newspaper illustrates all too well how easily an elderly individual can become the victim of financial exploitation. The news report alleges that a New Hampshire man stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own mother using his authority under a power of attorney. Whether you are currently enjoying your “Golden Years” yourself, or you are concerned about a parent or other family member who is, the story offers a perfect opportunity to remind everyone about the very real threat of elder financial abuse.
The Criminal Allegations
According to the news report, the New Hampshire Attorney General has filed four counts of financial exploitation of an elderly, disabled or impaired adult against Jerry Newton of Hillsborough. The criminal charges are based on allegations that the 53-year-old man stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own mother over a two year period starting back in 2015. The indictments allege that Newton used his power of attorney to steal roughly $328,000 from his mother during that time period. The money in question, obtained via Newton’s role as an Agent under a power of attorney, should have been used solely for his mother’s benefit; however, it was used for Newton’s benefit instead, according to court documents. If convicted, Newton faces 7 ½ to 15 years in New Hampshire State Prison and a possible fine of $4,000 for each count of financial exploitation.
Financial Exploitation of Seniors – Facts and Figures You Need to Know
Unfortunately, elder abuse is not a new problem in the United States; however, it is certainly a growing problem. As the population of older Americans continues to increase at a heretofore unseen rate, elder abuse is becoming more prevalent as well. Among the numerous types of elder abuse, financial abuse, or exploitation, is believed to be the most common. Accurate figures relating to any type of elder abuse are difficult to come by, due in large part to the fact that victims of elder abuse frequently do not report the abuse. Elder abuse victims are often ashamed or embarrassed to be a victim of abuse or they fear retribution from the abuser if they remain dependent on him/her. Consequently, experts are left to provide their best estimates with regard to the frequency of elder abuse. Instances of financial exploitation of seniors are thought to occur at a conservative rate of five million each year. What makes the issue of elder financial abuse even more disturbing is that the most likely perpetrator is family caregiver. In fact, two out of three perpetrators of elder financial abuse are family members, and when the perpetrator is a family member, three out of four times it is an adult child or spouse of an adult child.
Understanding the Power in a Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is one of the most common estate planning documents. Most people, at some point in their lifetime, execute a power of attorney, or POA. The problem is that people frequently fail to realize the power they grant in a POA and/or they forget to revoke one when circumstances dictate doing so. A general POA gives the Agent almost unfettered authority to act on behalf of the Principal. An Agent with general POA authority can withdraw funds from your account, sell your property, and even enter into accounts in your name. If the POA is durable, it means the Agent’s authority will survive your incapacity. Giving someone the power inherent in a general, durable POA is something that should only be done after careful consideration. The reality is that the temptation to abuse that authority can be great for many caregivers, even if they are your own children or other family members. If your goal is to provide someone with the ability to access and control assets in the event of your incapacity, consider a revocable living trust instead. Although the authority granted a Trustee in a revocable living trust can be abused, it is harder to do and the trust itself provides considerably more oversight to the Trustee’s power. In any event, be sure to consult with your estate planning attorney before executing a Power of Attorney of any kind.
Contact New Hampshire Elder Law Attorneys
For more information, please download out FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about elder abuse, contact the experienced New Hampshire elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.