BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - When someone reaches the point in life where making decisions for healthcare, finances and legal matters are beyond his or her control a power of attorney agreement can make sure everything is attended to.
While these legally-binding documents can help seniors they also come with significant risks.
James Hester was a fixture in his hometown. Born in 1937 his kids say he was frugal and hard working his entire life. Through his monument business he had saved enough to live out his life comfortably.
Instead, the last few years of his life were mired in distrust, court battles and fighting.
“He was happy, he was happy. His heart was just broken because of the betrayal,” said Phyllis Boyd, one of Hester’s three surviving children.
In 2015 when the siblings decided their father’s dementia was getting worse Boyd and her husband moved in to take care of him full time.
For a while, she said everything seemed fine. But in August 2016 a chance encounter with a bank employee led Boyd to do a full investigation of her father’s finances.
Boyd said, “That’s when she started printing out the checks that had been written, and the very low amount of money that was left of my dad’s. And that’s when all this started.”
Boyd said her father’s money, which he had saved dutifully for decades, was almost gone. And she claims her sister, Kim Thompson and the power of attorney she held for her father, are the reasons why.
After a car accident, Hester signed a durable power of attorney giving Thompson permission to handle his financial and legal affairs.
But Boyd and her brother Robert Hester say Thompson went well beyond what the document allows.
“They have to keep records, and they have to know that money was being spent on that person. And it wasn’t. My dad’s money was not spent on him,” Boyd said.
We reached out to Thompson but her attorney pointed us to the court documents.
Thompson said she did nothing wrong and that Boyd was trying to discredit her. But Boyd said the legal fight, and the one on the horizon, are not about her or her brother trying to smear Thompson or benefit from any money. She said she made her father a promise to make this right.
Boyd’s situation is complicated and highlights the risks seniors and others need to consider when entering into a power of attorney agreement.
“Anytime you sign over your ability to control your financial resources, you risk those resources,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon.
Higdon and his team have been working to educate seniors about these power of attorney risks, among others. He said anyone considering entering one of these agreements should get legal and financial guidance because these are powerful documents.
Higdon said, “As you grow older, of course, it’s necessary many times for us to have family members or people who are close to us to oversee our resources. But you want to make sure that you do that involving someone that you completely trust.”
“Higdon said education is important because the risks of power of attorney go beyond family disagreements. In some cases seniors could be approached by strangers asking them to sign a power of attorney and ask for payment afterwards. The bottom line? Be careful.