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It is an unfortunate truth that the elderly are often targets of unscrupulous con artists. There are many elderly people in Maryland that have executed a power of attorney naming a person in their lives that they trust as their attorney-in-fact that will betray that trust and use the power of attorney to steal from the elderly person that trusted him or her. Protecting unsuspecting elderly family members from this type of fraud is paramount.

It is estimated that of the $2.9 billion a year that is stolen from the elderly, 34 percent was taken by a trusted family member or neighbor. There is no way to tell how much of that abuse was with the assistance of a power of attorney. However, it is highly probable that at least some of the money taken was done in a seemingly legal manner through the use of one of these documents.

Even when a party is given a limited power of attorney that is only to be used for a specific purpose, there are many people that do not understand the difference and allow the use of the document even for a purpose for which it was not intended. For instance, a power of attorney allowing someone the couple trusted to obtain their vehicle's license plates was also used to withdraw money from the couple's bank. The teller was not aware that the person did not have permission to access the account under the limited power of attorney.

A power of attorney is a vital component of any Maryland estate plan, and can be a tremendous relief for both the person giving the power of attorney and the person appointed when used properly. The important thing to remember is to appoint someone with a proven track record of being trustworthy to and on behalf of the giver of the power. There is, of course, no magic formula to choosing this person. However, picking an attorney-in-fact and executing a power of attorney when it is not needed may provide the best security against fraud. It is often when people are desperate and in dire straits that they are most vulnerable to being taken advantage of by someone.

Source: MarketWatch.com, "Power of attorney: It's easily abused," Elizabeth O'Brien, March 19, 2013

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