Siblings Abusing Power of Attorney: What Can I Do?
Have you ever given your sibling or another trusted family member power of attorney (POA) to manage your finances or healthcare decisions? It’s a common and helpful way to take care of things yourself while you’re busy with work, school, raising kids, playing baseball, or whatever else. It might not come as a surprise that people in positions of trust can abuse their authority and use their power of attorney for personal gain. But it does happen—and more often than you might think. Disputes often occur when it comes to a person's estate. One sibling gets power of attorney, which gives them access to the finances of the head of the estate. When this happens, they become the handler, allowing them to open bank accounts, trade assets, and pay bills.
There is also a health care power of authority which gives a person the ability to make medical decisions on the principal's behalf. Siblings abusing power of attorney can happen in both regards.
Problems That Arise With the Abuse of a POA
There are times when the sibling is not ready to handle such a large estate and may begin to abuse the money and power. For example, if a sibling has financial power of attorney, they can treat the principal's bank account as their own. Instead of using it to take care of the estate, they use it for personal credit card payments. They go on a spree with the principal's money, spending it on expensive vacations and items for themself.
They may end up draining the money or running down the estate. In another example, a sibling who has a power of attorney for health care may forget to provide or authorize the health care. This can lead to complications or fatalities for the estate owner who cannot function without medical assistance. When this abuse happens, you need to take back control.
Who Can Override a Power of Attorney?
In both cases, the principal has the power to override the POA at any time. However, in most situations, they do not have the capacity to do so. Fortunately, there is another option to override the POA. If another party acts in the best interest of the principal, they can challenge it in court. Doing so, they need to provide sufficient evidence that there is abuse with the use of the POA.
A person who has a POA must follow the instructions to the letter. If not, you can get a legal professional to help you prove any wrongdoing. If the principal is still of sound mind, you can get a verbal response or a written document to override the POA. If that option is not possible, the attorney can urge the sibling to fulfill their responsibilities or face legal action.
If the abuser continues to remain adamant about their actions, then it must go to court. Your lawyer will petition to set aside the POA and transfer it to someone else. You’ll need to convince the judge of a reason to remove the sibling in power or have the principal’s wishes rejected due to incapacity.
Avoiding a POA Conflict
One way to avoid disputes and the potential of abuse is to have each sibling become a co-agent in the POA. That way, all parties can watch each other and stop abuse when necessary. However, this move also requires careful documentation. You need a lawyer to help ensure that there are no loopholes within the document.
Whether you’re drafting a POA or overriding one, a skilled lawyer is necessary. There must be an effort to stop siblings abusing power of attorney as early as possible.
What to do if you think your sibling or another trusted family member is abusing their power of attorney authority
If you have given someone power of attorney and you find evidence that they’re misusing their authority, you should take action as soon as possible. If your sibling (or whoever else you’ve given power of attorney to) is misusing their authority, it’s possible that they’re stealing your money. The best course of action in this case is to report them to the authorities. If your sibling (or whoever else you’ve given power of attorney to) is making poor decisions on your behalf, you should try to resolve the situation as soon as possible. In some cases, you may want to end the power of attorney relationship yourself. In other cases, you may want to request that the other person resign.
If your siblings are abusing their power of attorney, you can petition to have those powers taken away from them. The process for this varies from state to state, but it typically involves filing a petition with the probate court and providing evidence that your siblings are not capable of managing their affairs due to age, illness, or mental impairment. In most cases, you’ll need to hire a lawyer to help you with this process. Even if you’re dealing with a family member who is not particularly fond of you, a probate court can issue a guardianship order if it’s determined that they are unable to care for themselves. This is the last resort and not something that you want to happen, but it’s still an option if all else fails.
This article was sponsored by Heban, Murphree & Lewandowski, LLC, a probate law firm serving residents in Ohio.
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