Consumer Corner Column

Consumer Corner: The power of a power of attorney

Release Date: Jun 04, 2015

By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

Asking for help from another person is sometimes pretty easy. Maybe you’re asking for help moving some boxes or raking leaves. Other times, asking for help can be pretty hard. Asking for help with your finances is often one of those tough topics.

For many Kansas seniors, a power of attorney is a useful tool in asking someone for help managing this important aspect of their lives. So, it’s valuable to understand the importance and significance of this powerful legal tool.

Granting a power of attorney is an important decision. A power of attorney can give another person power over your affairs, from relatively simple matters such as paying your bills to intensely personal and complicated matters such as your health care decisions.

Before signing a power of attorney, it’s important to get personal legal advice from an attorney who has experience with these matters. This will allow you to specify the parameters and make your wishes clearly known to the person being granted power over your affairs. Simply printing off forms downloaded over the Internet and signing them may not have the effect you intend, or may give away authority you did not intend to relinquish.

Unfortunately, we see too many cases where a senior citizen has signed a power of attorney only to have the person they entrusted with their financial matters abuse that power for personal gain. Make sure the person you select as your power of attorney is trustworthy, has financial expertise, is organized and has time to manage your finances in addition to his or her own. Above all, make sure the person is willing to put your interests ahead of his or her own.

Finally, remember that if at any time you suspect your attorney-in-fact (the person to whom you have granted power of attorney) is not following your wishes, that power of attorney can be revoked. It’s a good idea to let another trusted friend or family member know that you’ve given power of attorney to another person so that they can watch out for your interests as well and be willing to step in if they think that trust is being abused.

Last year, the Kansas Legislature enacted a new law strengthening our ability to prosecute those who abuse a power of attorney for personal gain. The new law makes clear that misusing a trust instrument or a power of attorney in order to misappropriate an elder person’s life savings is a crime.

If you suspect a senior citizen is being financially abused, please call our hotline at (866) 551-6328.