All About Estates

Concerns over Power of Attorney Abuse

The numbers are staggering. One in 12 older Canadians are abused or neglected. That is the ‘conservative’ estimate provided by The Canadian Centre for Elder Law. The most commonly reported type of abuse is financial and, increasingly, this abuse is being committed by the holder of the senior’s Power of Attorney for Property (POA) – most often an adult child of the senior.

Risha Gotlieb’s article in the July 18th edition of Maclean’s magazine is titled: Stealing From Mom and Dad: Why power-of-attorney abuse against seniors is soaring – and so easy to get away with.

In addition to relaying a couple of scarey and sad stories about how seniors have been abused and betrayed by their adult children wielding a POA, the article discusses some of the precautions available to seniors to help thwart such abuse.

For example, the senior may wish to include a clause in the POA document requiring their POA to continue using the same financial advisor. The continued involvement of a long-standing trusted advisor no doubt provides an added degree of oversight and protection.  Lynne Butler, Senior Will  & Estate Planner with Scotia Private Client Group in Edmonton says her clients love this idea because ‘it gives them a sense of control and a real-world check and balance against a self-serving POA’. In the words of Burlington Ontario based financial adviser and chair of the local chapter of a group called Seniors and Law Enforcement Together, Leony De Graaf, a POA might ‘think twice’ knowing professionals are watching.

Another suggestion is to name the senior’s family doctor or a capacity accessor of their choice to determine their mental capacity and need for the POA to act.  Although a determination of mental incapacity is not always a precondition to the POA acting, in the event an assessment is required, it is best not to leave this in the hands of the adult child. 

In addition to these precautions, seniors may also want to consider options such as appointing a trust company as their attorney or other trust company services which I sometimes refer to as ‘Power of Attorney Lite’. Product offerings include financial administrative assistance with services such as asset custody, investment management, income and pension collection, bill payments, income tax reporting and filing. A senior who could benefit from some assistance in managing their affairs but is not yet in need or desirous of having a POA assume full responsibility for their financial affairs, may wish to explore such options.

Thanks for reading.

About Elaine Blades