In Texas, Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows you (the principal) to appoint another person or entity (your “Agent” or “Attorney in Fact”) to act on your behalf and handle your affairs if you are unable to do so. Illness, accidents and absence are just a few of the reasons why you would consider giving someone your Power of Attorney.
The responsibilities of the agent should be clearly spelled out in the POA document. Depending on the needs of the principal, they can be general, allowing the agent broad authority to handle all financial and business transactions as well as making medical and healthcare decisions, or they can be limited, granting only specific powers under certain circumstances.
Power of Attorney Abuse in Texas
It is important to choose as your agent someone you can trust. This person will legally be able to sign your name to a variety of financial, legal and medical documents and will have access to your bank and credit card accounts. Unfortunately, in some cases, a person doesn’t always have a choice when it comes to assigning an agent.
An agent is required by law to consult and gain consent for all decisions made on your behalf. However, because of the broad powers granted to the agent under many POA agreements, the possibility for abusing this relationship exists. In addition to violating the trust of their principal, an agent who abuses their responsibilities may be guilty of breaking many municipal, county, state and federal laws including theft, embezzlement, fraud, exploitation and forgery.
The Signs of Power of Attorney Abuse
You should always be alert to signs of Power of Attorney abuse. These can include:
- The agent is acting contrary to the principal’s stated instructions
- Abrupt and inexplicable changes in the financial status of the principal
- Abrupt and inexplicable changes in the agent’s lifestyle (new cars, jewelry and clothes, etc.)
- Asking the principal to sign unfamiliar or unexplained documents
- Evidence of identity theft
- Attempts by the agent to limit access to the principal
Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Power of Attorney Abuse
There are several steps you can take to prevent an agent is abusing the powers granted to them by the POA.
- Notify family, financial institutions, healthcare providers and legal representation that you are creating a POA document and who you are naming as the agent.
- Consult an experienced probate lawyer. Probably the most important step. You can download a generic POA document, but these may not provide for the protection from abuse you need. A probate lawyer will listen to your needs and draw up a document specifically suited to your situation, with all the safeguards to legally protect you from any POA abuse.
- To protect you from abuse, a good POA lawyer will suggest oversight clauses requiring the agent to answer to a third party, assigning co-agents and include language that will limit the powers an agent has.
Keep in mind that you can revoke your POA at any time.