April 20th, 2020
Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Author: E. Andrew Cole
There is no doubt that we are in extraordinary times. COVID-19 and its outbreak throughout the United States, including Maryland, have forced all of us to adapt to a new normal. Unfortunately, there is a segment of unscrupulous people attempting to exploit this pandemic for their own gain and they are targeting the elderly and disabled. With social distancing and nursing homes limiting access to their facilities and residents, families and advocates for older adults and individuals with disabilities must be vigilant now more than ever to protect these vulnerable segments of our society in addition to their own interests.
One of the ways this exploitation can happen is through abuse of a Power of Attorney (POA). A POA is an important and often very helpful mechanism to permit the appropriate person to be able to make decisions on behalf of another, typically someone who may be elderly, frail, ill, handicapped, or incapacitated. Unfortunately, a broadly worded POA can lead to financial exploitation and other harm as the agent typically has access to funds, property, and personal information of the principal and can make decisions without informing family or close friends. The agent can make large purchases or investments that may not be recouped at a later time.
It is critical to stay as informed as possible about your loved ones, their finances, and those who may be acting on their behalf during these uncharted times. Spotting these types of issues can be especially challenging when it is more difficult to have in person access with our loved ones. If you are unable to interact with your loved ones in person, try to maintain regular phone contact with them – especially those that may be vulnerable – in order to keep updated on financial changes they make (especially if it is a large purchase or investment), sign a power of attorney, or make changes to an existing power of attorney or other similar document. If you are already looking over, or able to look over, their finances make sure to retain bank statements, medical and personal records, and regularly review all of them for unusual activity, so you can act quickly if you see anything out of the ordinary.
As you are caring and looking out for others, make sure to also take care and look out for yourself. New types of scams are out in abundance, including people who are seemingly acting in your “best interest” but are really trying to make some money in this difficult time.
If you or a loved one find themselves in a position where they need to adopt or change a Power of Attorney (or any other financial or health care related documents), it is important to consult with an attorney to ensure that any power of attorney or related documents be carefully crafted to accomplish exactly what you intend it to accomplish, and not more.
In addition, if you suspect that you or a loved one is a victim of this kind of abuse, you should immediately contact an attorney. Stein Sperling has lawyers available who can advise you on various powers of attorney and how best to ensure that they are properly granted and administered.