Forbes recently posted an article about the importance of making wise and educated decisions when selecting your Power of Attorney. They share a poignant story of a daughter attempting to slowly starve her mother to death in order to gain an inheritance. Remember that your designated Power of Attorney is given control to act on your behalf when you are no longer able to take care of yourself. It is important you appoint someone that you know will have your best interest at heart. While in many cases this person would be a family member, in some situations, someone outside of the family would be a better choice.
In Polly’s case, she selected her only daughter, Vicky, as her Power of Attorney and as the agent on her health care directives. Vicky had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and had incurred a number of debts. When her 97 year old mother, Polly, needed care, Vicky was more concerned with the $500,000 inheritance than her mother’s well-being.
Vicky moved into Polly’s home to “care” for her mother. Vicky began immediately to withhold food from her mother, with the intent to starve her to death and collect the inheritance. Thankfully, Polly’s friend and neighbor noticed Polly’s rapid weight loss and decrease in health. The friend was rightly concerned and notified Adult Protective Services (APS), which had also been receiving complaints from Polly’s extended family.
APS forced Vicky to put her mother into a care facility, however, they cannot force which care facility to use and Vicky chose the cheapest home she could find. Vicky got Hospice involved as her mother’s current state (starved, frail and confused) made her eligible (by being diagnosed as having six months or less to live). Vicky did not provide the care facility with any additional clothes for her mother and forbid them from spending money to buy them. She also instructed them not to feed her but only to give her water, to prevent her from getting out of bed and to not allow any other relatives to visit.
The care facility notified APS as well as Polly’s sister, Lorna, who is 79 years old and lives out of state. Lorna and her daughter came to visit Polly and also to provide funds for her food and clothing. Lorna and her daughter become actively involved with Polly’s care and have contacted her on a daily basis. Polly is now returning to a capable mental state and is able to socialize with other members of the care facility and move around in a wheelchair. Now that her mental health is improving, Polly can create new documents, with an attorney’s assistance, to change her Power of Attorney to Lorna’s daughter and take away remove all care rights from Vicky.
This story is tragic, but it happens more often than we know of. In fact, most elder abuse cases go unreported and unpunished. It’s important to be careful in whom you select to have control over your affairs when you are incapacitated. This person must be someone who has your best interest at heart – and that may not be a family member. In this case, Polly made a good decision to create her documents, but made a poor choice in appointing Vicky in such vital roles. Perhaps the documents were made before Vicky’s drug and alcohol problems. Perhaps she was a loving and caring daughter at the time. In this case, we cannot stress how important it is to keep your documents updated with the circumstances of your life. When Vicky’s life and personality to a turn for the worst, Polly should have had her documents revised. Thankfully, Polly had loving family and caring neighbors and caregivers that took a stand for her rights and saved her from a slow death by starvation at her daughter’s own hands. In too many cases like this, there is not a happy ending.
Be smart about your planning. Get your documents in place and review them every 3-5 years to make sure they are still the best decisions for your current circumstances. Make wise and careful decisions on whom to appoint in vital roles – do not choose based on feelings of obligation, or the assumption that your closest relative would be the best fit. Every situation is different. Meet with an attorney from Morris Hall to discuss your options and your future. Call today to schedule a free consultation – 888.222.1328.
About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, powers of attorney, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!