Sadly, abuse and neglect of the elderly is a widespread – and growing – problem in the United States. When most people think of “elder abuse,” however, they think of physical or even emotional abuse. The most common form of elder abuse though is actually financial abuse or victimization. For this reason, it is imperative that you be on guard, if you are an older individual, anytime someone asks you to sign a document or asks you for money for any reason. What if you are asked to sign a North Carolina Power of Attorney by the nursing home where you reside? Should you sign that? The simple answer is “no” – at least not without having an experienced North Carolina estate planning attorney review it first.
Some Facts and Figures Relating to Financial Abuse of the Elderly
Accurate figures relating to abuse and/or neglect of the elderly are very difficult to come by for several reasons. First, although states are finally starting to make elder abuse a criminal offense, the reporting requirements are certainly not uniform across the country, making the collection of meaningful data from law enforcement agencies difficult. Second, older individuals are often reluctant to report abuse and/or neglect because they are ashamed to be a victim. Finally, many older victims don’t report abuse or neglect because they fear reprisals given the fact that a significant majority of the perpetrators are actually responsible for the victim’s care. Despite all of these obstacles, some statistics are available. Experts estimate that there are as many as five million instances of financial exploitation of a senior each year in the U.S. Moreover, they tell us that for every one case of financial victimization that is reported, as many as 25 go unreported.
What Is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney, or POA, is a legal document that allows you (the “Principal”) to grant authority or power to someone else (your “Agent”) to act on your behalf in legal matters or transactions. The type and extent of the authority granted under a POA depends on the which kind of POA you execute and the terms included in the POA. A general POA grants the Agent virtually unfettered power to act on your behalf. Under the authority of a general POA your Agent could sell your assets, enter into a contract in your name, or withdraw funds from your bank account, among other things. A Limited, or Special, Power of Attorney, on the other hand, only gives your Agent the authority specifically outlined in the POA document. For example, you might give an Agent a Limited POA that allows the Agent to sell a vehicle for you while you are out of town.
Why Would a Nursing Home Ask You to Execute a POA?
There are several reasons why a nursing home might want you to execute a POA; however, do not ever sign a POA without first allowing an attorney to review the document. The nursing home might be trying to get your POA in order to ensure that they are paid, in order to schedule medical treatment for you, or for an endless number of other reasons. The nursing home, however, should not require, or even request, your POA for things such as this. If you are having problems managing your finances, or you need someone to help you make everyday decisions, the proper route to take is to have someone appointed as your guardian and/or conservator. Usually, when a guardian or conservator is needed, a family member or close loved one steps up and petitions the court to be appointed. If a family member or loved one is not able or willing to act as your guardian or conservator, there are agencies that have people who are trained to act as guardians and conservators. Regardless of who is appointed, the benefit to guardianship and/or conservatorship instead of Agent authority under a POA is that a guardian or a conservator must report to the court, making them accountable for all actions they take on your behalf. With a POA there is very little, if any, accountability.
If you have been asked to execute a Power of Attorney by a nursing home, or anyone else for that matter, always have your North Carolina estate planning attorney review the document immediately.
For more information, please download our free estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions about a North Carolina Power of Attorney contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Cheryl David by calling 336-547-9999 to schedule an appointment.