Misappropriation of an elderly person's assets by someone legally authorized to oversee them may now be a lot tougher to pull off in the State of New York. New legislation that went into effect Sept. 1 — in the form of a radically changed power-of-attorney (POA) document — couldn't have come at a better time. "Financial abuse is one of the fastest growing areas of elder abuse," says Andrea Lowenthal, an elder-law and estate-planning attorney in New York. "Older people are a growing segment of society and are among the most vulnerable, often because of their misplaced trust." But if seniors are the prey, then they often choose their predators — people they've empowered to act on their behalf, as agents, in financial matters, though a POA.
To be granted the rights associated with a POA was pretty uncomplicated under the old document. Only one signature was required — that of the principal assigning POA to the agent. In some cases, the agent — usually an offspring — didn't even know he or she had been named in the document until the principal became unable to take care of day-to-day financial affairs. Such secrecy generally led to confusion down the road, with the appointee often woefully ignorant of the principal's state of affairs. In other instances, a health-care aide or housekeeper with ulterior motives might procure a POA and persuade a gullible senior to sign it. The signature of the principal was basically all that mattered then.
Now things are different.
"The new power of attorney has teeth," says Ronald Fatoullah, an elder-law and estate-planning attorney in New York.
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New Protetions for the Elderly