by Joyce Koria Hayes, Esquire
An Essential Tool, But Beware of the Dangers
In the April issue of Vital! we discussed the Durable Personal Power of Attorney (DPPOA) as one of the vital tools available to adults planning for the possibility of incapacity. Since June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, let’s address abuse of the DPPOA.
The person you appoint to act for you if you become incapacitated is called your “Agent.” Your Agent has a duty to use your assets only for your benefit and s/he has to sign a statement to that effect prior to acting under the DPPOA. The enforcement of that obligation is the issue. In the form of DPPOA available on the Delaware State Department of Health and Human Services website (http://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dltcrp/files/poaform.pdf), there is no obligation for your Agent to report to anyone and there is no automatic oversight.
What if the Agent uses your debit card to buy groceries and takes out $50 in cash — every week. Who is going to learn about the cash? What if your Agent paints your living room and then writes himself a check for $1000 and a contractor would have charged $500. Your friends or loved ones may suspect that your Agent is using some of your assets for improper purposes, but how do they know when they have no access to records?
As a safeguard, consider requiring your Agent to give a copy of bank statements to another family member, as well as authorizing the bank to allow another family member access to financial records. The principles are simple: Lack of knowledge breeds suspicion, and reporting lessens the opportunity for wrongdoing. Even if your Agent is a trusted family member, the protection of a reporting requirement and access to records should be considered critical.
If you suspect that someone is abusing a DPPOA and misusing assets of an older or disabled adult, call Adult Protective Services at 800-223-9074. If there is a suspicion of misuse of a bank account, you might also discuss the issue with the bank. Delaware law allows a bank to place a hold on a specific transaction pending investigation if the transaction appears to be an instance of financial exploitation of the elderly.
Joyce Koria Hayes, Esq., is the Executive Director, Secretary and Mediator at Delaware Elder Mediation Services, Inc., located at 273 E. Main Street, Newark, DE. For more information on dealing with aging loved ones, or if you have a question for Joyce, call her at 302-287-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.