Abuse of a Power of Attorney
What is A Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a written document that gives a designated agent the legal authority to act for the principal during their lifetime and is effective upon signing. A power of attorney authorizes the agent to act on behalf of the principal regarding financial matters, such as writing checks or selling real estate. The power of attorney sets forth the specific power which the principal wants the agent to have. The authority of an agent can be very broad. A power of attorney extinguishes upon the death of the principal.
Types of Power of Attorney Abuse Cases
There is generally no oversight of the actions of an agent under a power of attorney. In the hands of a bad agent, a power of attorney can be abused for financial gain and to the detriment of the principal. Powers of attorney have been used to steal money, transfer assets, interfere with inheritances and other actions which are contrary to the wishes of the principal and against their best interests and potentially the best interests of the beneficiaries of their estate.Oftentimes a power is abused at a time when the principal is having health issues or is otherwise in a vulnerable position such as an elderly person who is alone.
Where it is suspected that someone is abusing a power of attorney, it is important to act swiftly before assets are depleted. With the passage of time, claims might be lost or it might be impossible to recover the assets.
There are a number of possible legal claims depending on the circumstances.
The Principal or their legal representative can request an accounting by the agent.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Under a power of attorney an agent acts as a fiduciary of the principal. An agent must act in the best interests of the principal and with a duty of loyalty. An agent is not allowed to engage in self-dealing.
Conversion is a possible claim. Conversion is a claim that asserts that the agent has taken something which belongs to the principal and has failed to return it.
Where the agent steals from the principal another possible claim in available in Connecticut would be statutory theft. Anyone who steals the property of another will be liable to that person for treble damages.
Connecticut has laws regarding elder abuse. There are also criminal statutes addressing elder financial abuse. If you suspect that an elder person is being financially abused, you should report this to the Connecticut Department of Social Services.
Interference With an Inheritance
An agent acting under a power of attorney may sometimes use their authority to inappropriately impact the inheritance of another. Connecticut recognizes a claim for interference with inheritance and this may be another potential claim.
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