Misusing a vulnerable adult’s power of attorney is considered financial exploitation in Washington State. It’s one of the most overlooked types of elder abuse and one of the most difficult for others to recognize.
If you feel your loved one is being taken advantage of by the person who has power of attorney, it’s important to report the abuse of power to the authorities and to speak to a lawyer for help. You and your lawyer can file to have the power revoked and possibly file a civil suit against the wrongdoer to recover your loved one’s losses. For legal help in Washington, you are welcome to contact one of our attorneys at Ron Meyers & Associates PLLC for a free consultation.
Understanding Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legally binding document that gives another person (called the agent) the legal authority to make financial and health-related decisions for someone (called the principal). Vulnerable elders are often encouraged to assign a trusting agent with a power of attorney if their health or mental faculties decline. Note, principals are still legally entitled to make decisions even after signing a power of attorney. If an elder’s decision is in opposition to the agent’s, for example, the elder’s wishes are the ones that are upheld.
The power of attorney document will list the powers given to the agent. This can include the authority to buy or sell the elder’s (called the principal’s) real estate, write checks on the principal’s behalf, manage the principal’s business and invest money, among other powers.
Abuse of a Power of Attorney
Abuse of a power of attorney essentially breaches the fiduciary duty with which the agent was entrusted for personal gain. Common examples of abuse of a power of attorney include the following.
- Selling property and pocketing profits
- Coercing the elder to modify his or her will to allot more property to the agent
- Funneling the elder’s funds into the agent’s account for personal use
- Spending down assets under the guise of “helping” the elder qualify for Medicaid
RCW 74.34.020(6) defines financial exploitation as “the illegal or improper use, control over, or withholding of the property, income, resources, or trust funds of the vulnerable adult by any person or entity for any person’s or entity’s profit or advantage other than for the vulnerable adult’s profit or advantage.”
The statutes further provide that a misuse of the power of attorney “that results in the unauthorized appropriation, sale, or transfer of the property, income, resources, or trust funds of the vulnerable adult for the benefit of a person or entity other than the vulnerable adult,” is a definite form of a breach of fiduciary duty. When the agent abuses his or her financial duty, the agent subjects him or herself to criminal penalties for elder fraud and is civilly liable for all financial, physical and emotional harm he or she causes the victim.
What to Do if Your Loved One is Taken Advantage of
The first task will be to take action to stop financial abuse from occurring. You will want to report what’s happening to the Adult Protective Services (APS), which is located in the local Department of Social and Health Services office. The APS will investigate the report and coordinate with law enforcement to provide for and protect the vulnerable adult.
Next, you will want to speak to a lawyer to draw up the document to revoke the power of attorney so that the abuser no longer can harm your loved one. It might also be prudent to file an action for a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order. Your lawyer also can help you file a lawsuit to seek damages for losses such as the following.
- Return of property
- Loss of money, investments, insurance policies, etc.
- Pain and suffering
Our caring, determined legal team at Ron Meyers & Associates PLLC regularly handles elder financial abuse cases and will be happy to assist you. Call the office today at 844-920-2438 and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.