On a crisp autumn day, I stood on the steps of Gwinnett County Probate Court and watched my life vanish. I remember the day as though it were yesterday. In hindsight, it was a beautiful day but I could have cared less. In less than hour, I had just found out that after 47 years of marriage, my husband died and left our son in charge of our assets. Four years prior to his death, my husband suffered from his first of three heart attacks. That gut-wrenching day brought the reality of our mortality directly to our doorstep.
After days spent sleeping on stiff hospital chairs and drinking stale hospital coffee, my husband came home. Unbeknownst to me, as worried as I was about him, he was worried about me. As a result, he solicited the help of our 43-year-old son. My husband and I built most of our wealth in a small but popular local restaurant. It provided us with the home we built and the ability to raise our family comfortably. With a simple stroke of a pen, my husband had signed a power of attorney which gave our son access to all our assets.
By his understanding, this gave our first-born son the ability to replace his presence in our family. Four years later, I would find out that our son had repaid his exorbitant amount of student loans, purchased a car and used a great portion of our finances to render the down payment on his new home. All this, I would find out when the automatic payment on our mortgage came back with insufficient funds. My son had slowly been siphoning money from our bank accounts and I had no authority to say otherwise.
The Dangers Of A Power Of Attorney
What happened to Marianne is certainly unfortunate. However, what it is not is illegal.
Marianne’s son took advantage using a powerful tool called a Power of Attorney (POA). A Power of Attorney is a document used to give a person, also known as an agent, the opportunity to act on your behalf. A Power of Attorney can be used in many ways and for various reasons.
The primary issue with a POA is that once administered, it renders a great degree of power to the person to whom it has been given. A lot of times, POAs can be a very simple sheet of paper with very few words but allows a person with a laundry list of capabilities such as entering contracts or even buying and selling real estate.
POAs are usually signed when a person anticipates they will not be capable to make certain decisions. For example, if you are planning to go away on a trip and would like your spouse to be able to make financial transactions on your behalf, you would then give them a Power of Attorney as your acting agent.
When signing a Power of Attorney, be aware of the following:
- Use an experienced attorney to draft a power of attorney specific to your needs. As much as you should not get medical advice online, you probably should not obtain a Power of Attorney or any legal document via the internet. Many of those documents are not maintained frequently enough to reflect updated laws.
- A Power of Attorney can be as specific as you need for it to be. It can be customized by capabilities, time frame, and situations.
- A power of attorney does not survive their principal. Once a person has passed away, all powers of attorneys cease.
- You have the ultimate authority over your Power of Attorney. You can revoke a Power of Attorney at any time you deem necessary.