An important part of the estate planning process in Pennsylvania is establishing a power of attorney. This legal document gives one person (the “agent”) the authority to act for another person (the “principal”). The agent should be a person the principal implicitly trusts to manage their financial and personal affairs.
The power of attorney is a powerful document that gives the agent the legal authority to act on the principal’s behalf. As such, its power is sometimes abused by the agent. Here are a few potentially abusive actions loved ones should keep an eye out for.
When an agent abuses this duty, he or she converts asset ownership to his or her own name. The agent may improperly use money in the principal’s accounts for personal spending, take control of assets or otherwise steal property or funds. Often, conversion also constitutes fraud since the agent may present fraudulent signatures or documents for asset theft purposes.
Breach of fiduciary duty
The person who accepts the role of power of attorney has a fiduciary responsibility. He or she must always act in the best interest of the person who established the power of attorney. When the family believes this person has failed to do so, they may have grounds for a breach of fiduciary duty claim. Fraud may also come into play if the agent lied about circumstances to make it appear as if he or she intended to serve the principal’s best interests.
In the case of conversion, fraud or breach of duty by the agent, the principal or his or her family can seek legal remedy. This can include removal of the person from the power of attorney role, civil penalties such as restitution, and criminal penalties such as jail time, fines or community service.