The Hazards of a Power of Attorney
It can not be overstressed, a Power of Attorney, especially a Durable General Power of Attorney can be a very dangerous legal document. The recent case in Lafayette, Georgia is a prime example of what can happen if a power of attorney is placed in the wrong hands. Christi Morgan is accused of theft by conversion after allegedly using a power of attorney to sale off assets belonging to her cousin then converting the assets to her own use. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Morgan is accused of stealing at least $165,000 from 64-year-old Jackie Humphrey, a cousin for whom Christi had power of attorney. Additionally, the Times Free Press reports that Morgan’s husband, Roger Morgan, the Pastor of North LaFayette Baptist Church, has also been arrested and charged with felony theft by conversion.
Although neither one of them have been convicted, and must be considered innocent until proven guilty, the allegations alone should give anyone pause about a durable power of attorney. In Georgia this document is typically a Durable Financial Power of Attorney, whereas in Tennessee and many other states it is a Durable General Power of Attorney. Both documents are virtually the same, and both grant an extraordinary amount of power to a person to act on your behalf. When you execute a power of attorney you are legally appointing someone to act on your behalf as your “attorney-in-fact” and typically the attorney-in-fact can do anything and everything with your property that you yourself can do. This includes selling your home, borrowing money, closing out bank accounts, etc.
It is not clear if the power of attorney granted to Morgan was an attorney drafted document or if it came from the internet or an office supply store. Yes, incredibly you can purchase such a powerful written instrument on the internet or at Staples – fill in the blanks, sign and you have given a tremendous amount of power to another person. This is hardly advisable. Some of these pre-made forms have serious flaws in them, and none of them offer any legal advice or counsel.
[notice]In situations like Jackie Humphrey’s a Revocable Trust may have been the best solution. A Trust adds a layer of protection not available under a power of attorney[/notice]
One of the most important things that you can do when considering a Durable Power of Attorney, is to have an experienced attorney.
A lawyer will counsel you, and explain the benefits and detriments of this powerful legal document. More importantly, perhaps is that an attorney can assist you in choosing your attorney-in-fact, and even interview and counsel this person regarding their fiduciary duties under the document.
Although there is no way to be 100% sure that the person you name as attorney-in-fact will properly fulfill there duties to you, having an attorney involved will protect you in most instances. Most people reach a point in their lives that requires them to make arrangements for someone to help them manage their affairs, whether due to illness or other reasons. If you are contemplating your needs in this regard contact an attorney to discuss your needs, and the legal documents involved in meeting those needs.
Please note that Purple Law Firm and its attorneys are licensed in Tennessee and not licensed to practice law in the State of Georgia. This article is not intended as legal advice, seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your state.