We appreciate the responses we received to our request to identify the location of the photo in last week’s newsletter. It was taken in Yosemite National Park, but our winner will remain anonymous.
According to a report released this week, Virginia ranks fifth out of the fifty states for elder fraud. While the details of how the researchers determined the reported numbers (e.g., five million annual cases in the US; one in ten of adults over 65 victimized) are a little fluffy, there is no doubt that these cases are on the rise. And in our experience the details of the report ring very true: watch your dad’s debit card account, pay attention to who is calling your mom’s cell phone regularly with great financial news, and most importantly, be very careful about who you name as your agent on a power of attorney.
We often call powers of attorney the most important legal documents everyone needs—and the most dangerous. Our reason for saying it’s so important is that without a power of attorney in place, no one will have legal authority to make legal and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated. And we mean no one, including your spouse. In cases where someone becomes incapacitated without a power of attorney, we have to assist the spouse (or other family member) to file a conservatorship petition in the local court to get the legal authority to act on behalf of the incapacitated person. This conservatorship process costs at least ten times as much money and takes ten times as long to accomplish as signing a power of attorney before incapacity develops. And why are they dangerous? Well, when you give someone authority under a power of attorney to act for you (called your
agent), you essentially give that person a key to everything you own without any supervision. Unfortunately just because that person is related to you by blood is no guarantee that he or she will never take advantage of your trust. Thus you need to make sure that the person you name is truly above reproach. When the agent you name turns out to be anything less than that, you become one of the ten victimized adults cited in the report.
If you’ve never done it, you should do an internet search for the term “Virginia Power of Attorney.” The entire first page of results is a list of downloadable power of attorney forms that you can print and sign right now. However, we would strongly advise you not to actually rely on one of these forms. Not all powers of attorney are created equal, and in our experience a poorly drafted power of attorney can be worse than no power of attorney. Virginia power of attorney laws changed significantly in 2010 and under the revised statutes certain powers need to be expressly stated to be granted, some powers may be ones that you do not want to include, and other powers you may want to include with limitations. Without counsel, your options and the consequences of your choices can become a legal labyrinth. We’re here to make sure you avoid the Minotaur.