Dec 30

Power of Attorney has the Power to be Abused in Florida

Jeffrey S. Goethe

There are no safeguards when the vulnerable sign over control of their affairs. Investigators say that’s how a Riverview woman took $500,000 from a 93-year-old Pinellas Park man she had never met before.

In the linked story from The Tampa Bay Times, we see yet another reason for careful, thoughtful estate planning.

The person referenced in the story is entitled to due process and may ultimately be found not guilty, or charges might even be dropped, but the story is a reminder about the need to plan before the crisis hits. Without passing judgment on anyone involved, the article shows that something that might seem as simple as a power of attorney could have drastic consequences. Interestingly, the article points out a benefit of a process that has drawn a lot of criticism – court supervised guardianship.

I recently saw an info-mercial for a highly respected celebrity who suggested that attorneys don’t want people to know about wills and trusts because the attorneys make money from probate work. That statement could not be further from the truth. Because good attorneys meet with clients, discuss their options, and then discuss the details of their plan, it costs money for attorneys to provide those services. They are not simply filing in blanks on a form that they use for every client. They also are not hoping that clients or their families end up in a bad situation that requires high legal fees to resolve.

The appointment of an agent under a power of attorney is a critical decision. It is a decision that should be made will in advance. The agent should be a trusted family member, or a licensed professional. Florida law does provide criminal sanctions for agents who violate their duties under a power of attorney.

The Florida legislature has provided an injunction procedure to stop the kinds of exploitation described in the Tampa Bay Times article.

The moral of the story is plan now, plan carefully, and update your plan as needed. Don’t take it for granted.