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The story that we covered about the new study showing rampant abuse of seniors by their own family members is getting lots of media attention, which is good.  National news coverage of the “epidemic” in America today, where elders and senior citizens are being financially victimized and having money and property taken from them by their own family members, is really taking off.

CNN is reporting that “Senior victims lose average of $140,500 to financial abuses,” while Reuters‘ Mark Miller writes “Senior financial scams often all in the family,” and the Palm Beach News has “Managing Your Fortune: Be savvy, seniors: Don’t let aging disrupt your finances.”   The more the word gets out, the better for savvy elders and other family members to be aware of the real risk of exploitation close to home.

Larry Tolchinsky’s Tip:

Seniors need to be particularly careful here in Florida to protect themselves and their estates from victimization.  Why?  Because of the October 2011 Florida Legislative changes to the Florida Power of Attorney laws.   Florida’s Power of Attorney Act (Florida Statutes 709.2101 et seq.) have been significantly amended.

Durable Powers of Attorney are part of most estate plans here in Florida.  They are controlled by a specific law passed up in Tallahassee: the Florida Power of Attorney Statute.  That law was changed in a big way, with the changes effective on October 1, 2011.

Consider these changes and how they may be very, very helpful to the evildoing family member desperate for cash the minute he or she knows he’s listed in an elderly family member’s Power of Attorney:

  1. Now,  all Florida Powers of Attorney are effective the minute that they are signed.  You sign the paperwork at the lawyer’s office, and PRESTO! your niece, driving in her car three hundred miles away, immediately has new legal power.  She doesn’t need to know it, she doesn’t need to be there.  You sign, it happens.
  2. Some may remember “springing” powers of attorney: where you signed the document, but the power of attorney didn’t become effective until some kind of event happened: you got sick, for example.  While they still may work in some active duty military scenarios, the general rule is Florida no longer recognizes or allows a “springing” POA.
  3. What’s more, even if you think that having more than one person named in the Power of Attorney is smart (and it is), this doesn’t mean that the niece driving down the road won’t have the power to act on her own, individually and independently, based upon your POA.  The October 2011 Law changes things:  it’s no longer assumed that if you name more than one person in your POA that you intend for them to vote and act together as a team or unit when deciding what to do about your money, your assets, or you.
  4. Another thing to note:  copies of that Power of Attorney are just as good as the original.  The law requires third parties – like banks – to respect a copy just like it was the original signed document.

Powers of Attorney are legal documents.  Very powerful legal documents.   With a Florida Durable Power of Attorney, a trusting family member can give one or several of his family members the authority to do things like:

  • gain access and use checking accounts
  • gain access and use savings accounts
  • gain access and use investment accounts
  • sign and buy on credit cards
  • handle new financial transactions (like buying a car or a boat or a motorcycle)
  • sign legal documents (like a note)
  • make health care decisions (including those which might keep that elder unable and unaware of new financial activity).

Family members need to be aware of circumstances surrounding older members of the family.  Sure there are known “black sheep” in some families; however, it is sad but true that many times the family member that is exploiting the elderly uncle, aunt, or grandparent is someone that the family never suspects: they’re so “nice,” so “quiet,” they have such a “good heart.”

Desperate economic times can mean people do strange things.  Family members should investigate things if they see suspicious activity like:

  • The elder family member isn’t handling their own purchases.
  • The senior has  a new mailing address (especially a Post Office Box).
  • The grocery bills seem to be big (maybe they’re padded).
  • It’s hard to get in touch with the elderly relative: they can’t be reached by phone, no one answers the door.

Someone with a power of attorney can legally do all sorts of things, so in this age of elder exploitation as an epidemic, please be aware and be careful.  And if you have any questions or concerns, contact a Florida attorney with experience related to these issues to get some guidance.

Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at, or (954) 458-8655.  Larry loves to talk the law, and he’s a lawyer that will take your call!

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