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Working in the field of estates, wills, and trusts law has provided me with the opportunity to interact with and provide services to elder people and their adult children.
Given the advancement in modern medicine and the current trend towards healthy, active lifestyles, life expectancy is at an all time high. Coupled with this is the fact that seniors generally have more savings, assets, and disposable income.
Overall, this is a great thing, but does unfortunately carry with it certain undesirable effects. One such effect was recently discussed in an article in the Financial Post which highlighted that financial abuse amongst seniors by scam artists is on the rise in both the United States and Canada.
Not only do seniors have more disposable income, they are considered good targets on the basis that they do not appreciate the value of their assets (such as property increasing in value), may be unwilling to take action against a scammer due to embarrassment, and the advancement in technology not only makes managing funds more difficult, but also makes it easier for scammers to appeal to seniors.
Signs that such an abuse may be occurring include: large withdrawals from bank accounts; withdrawals that seem out of the ordinary; or a lack of available funds to make essential payments. Amongst other avenues, two options are available to seniors to avoid falling into such a scam.
One low cost option available to seniors is to include someone they trust, such as a son or daughter, as a joint account holder to their bank accounts. This can easily be set up by visiting one’s local bank branch. Creating a joint account gives account holders certain powers including the power to review bank statements and certain control over the assets in the account. However, this is not a fix-all solution as many banks allow one joint account holder to withdraw or transfer funds without the agreement of the other account holder.
Given this, a second, legally enforceable, option available to seniors is to appoint a power of attorney for property.
Executing a power of attorney for property enables the designated attorney the power to make binding decisions on another’s behalf, minus the power to make a will. As the law imposes a fiduciary duty upon the attorney, it follows that the attorney must set aside their interests and work solely for the benefit of the appointor.
There is also a duty that attorneys keep accounts of all transactions. Although setting up a power of attorney requires the use of a qualified lawyer, it does carry with it the enforceability and protection of the court.