Worst Power of Attorney Abuse Case?

Tennessee General Power of Attorney and the Hazards

In Tennessee. a Durable General Power of Attorney is a very powerful legal document that appoints a person or persons to act on your behalf in any matter.  The “Attorney-in-Fact” can do anything that you can do, including buy, sell or mortgage property, open or close financial accounts, write checks, etc.  A power of attorney grants awesome authority to the attorney-in-fact and should be used with extreme caution.

In a recent estate case which was tried in the Chancery Court of Washington County, Tennessee, the Chancellor stated:

[T]his is the worst estate and power of attorney case I’ve seen come through my court. I’ve been on the bench now about twenty-one years and I have seen some real messes so far as operating an estate account, but I have never seen any that are in this bad a shape.

According to the Tennessee Court of Appeals decision in the case of In Re: Estate of Viola B. Copas : In August 1997,  Viola Copas (“Mother”) and her husband, Clyde Copas (“Father”) executed unrestricted powers of attorney appointing their son, RC, who was one of their three (3) children, as attorney-in-fact. Father subsequently passed away in October 1998.  The Mother died in July, 2005. Shortly after the mother’s death the son, RC, was appointed as the Personal Representative of her estate. RC’s siblings filed suit to have him removed as Personal Representative of the decedent’s probate estate and a separate suit seeking money damages for misappropriation of funds while he was acting as attorney-in-fact and the executor of the estate.

The trial court found that:

The Court finds he’s a thief. The total of [Siblings’] missing money is $863,469.38. I say “missing,” that’s the money that went to [RC] and he admits the he took $709,420.74 from these accounts… The Court notes that [RC]’s use of his power of attorney was abusive and that he used it to profit himself.

In the end the trial court entered a judgment against RC and in favor of Siblings for $2,040,276, plus attorney fees totaling $102,576.36.   The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgement of the trial court.

While this case involves an extreme abuse of a power of attorney for personal gain, it should be kept in mind before you execute a power of attorney, without restrictions, and without caution.  To learn more about a Durable General Power of Attorney, the hazards, and how it can be properly utilized for your benefit speak to an attorney at law  who is experienced in estate planning matters.

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