What do we do if we suspect fraud by the power of attorney?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What can we as a family member do if we suspect fraud by the power of attorney?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The agent named to act in the power of attorney document has the legal duty to act in your family member’s best interests. While that is a little muzzy as a legal standard, the greater practical truth is that you know fraud when you see it — money being siphoned from a bank account and not used to provide for the health and safety of your family member, for example.

You are pinned in a difficult spot, because it may be tough to find out exactly what the agent is doing: In most states, he or she will not automatically be required to account or report to a court or to other family members.

Your first step will be to get specific about your concerns — about what makes you suspect there is fraud occurring. Then try to have an honest talk with the agent. Don’t be accusatory; simply emphasize your interest in knowing what is going on — and let him or her know you are available to help or that you support the idea of hiring someone else to help if that seems best. In a surprising number of cases, that show of care and concern clears up the matter.

If that step is not possible or successful, you might ask a court to review the agent’s acts to make sure they’re on the up and up—and possibly to require an accounting so that the finances can be more directly monitored.

And as a last step, if you are fairly certain there is some financial abuse going on, and have good evidence to prove it, consider contacting the office of adult protective services in the state in which your family member lives. Most have confidential hotlines to help callers define and direct their complaints, and can provide referrals to local sources for more help.