There is a sad and shocking story in the Washington Post yesterday morning about a local lawyer (he was in Fairfax, not actually in Southern Maryland) who allegedly used a power of attorney to steal from an elderly lady. He has been charged with crimes and plead guilty, and is awaiting sentencing. The family has also sued him in civil court.
This attorney was made power of attorney years ago by a couple who met him in a social fraternity type organization. They clearly trusted him more than most people would trust a lawyer in a regular professional relationship.
At some point, the lawyer started exercising his power. After that, it is alleged that he embezzled her money for himself, paid his son and other friends for alleged “services,” and paid a care giver $35/hour – who turned out to be his girlfriend and later his wife!
The family says the worst thing he did was let her die alone. He apparently never notified anyone she was dying. They found out after the fact.
This is most certainly NOT a normal situation. Most people do not give power of attorney to their attorney. There are ethics rules against it in Maryland. At our firm, we would never accept such an appointment of power even if a client tried to give it to us.
It also appears this attorney abused his power at the least, and committed criminal acts at the worst. This situation does not pass the smell test. It is hard to believe any attorney would not know this situation was going to be a problem.
However, this story is a good example of the power you give away when you give someone power of attorney. It is a LOT of power. You have to be certain that the person with this power is someone you can trust. For more on powers of attorney and other estate planning issues, read our Free Legal Consumer Guide on them here.