For seniors, having a durable power of attorney form is critical to ensure a close family member or friend can act on their behalf should disability or incapacity occur.

This one simple document allows a chosen agent to access financial accounts, pay bills, make investments, buy or sell property and generally oversee all of your affairs if you are unable to speak for yourself.

But one important key that many seniors overlook or do not take seriously is the fact that your power of attorney can make these decisions without any additional authorization or permission from you.

While we all like to think our trusted agent would never abuse this privilege, given the weak economy and the financial problems that many people today are facing, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen. In fact, there nearly 5 million reports of this type of fraud each year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

Fortunately there are a few easy steps you can take to protect yourself and your assets from financial abuse.  They are:

– Create a checks and balances system. While it is not necessary to give power of attorney to more than one person in order to prevent fraud, it is a good idea for all family members to be on the same page with frequent updates on the status of accounts.

– Write your power of attorney a very specific way. An estates lawyer in Orange County can help you write your power of attorney so that only specific accounts and bills are covered. For example, you can explicitly forbid access to savings accounts that you know should not be touched until it is time to distribute money after your death.

– Give a heads up at your local bank. If you visit the same exact bank each week or month, talk to the tellers who know you about your situation. Encourage them to be on the lookout for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary if you feel you might be at a high risk for fraud.

– Stay involved if possible. The more aware you are, the more questions you are likely to ask, which could deter people from stealing.

Want more tips on estate planning and how to protect your assets or wishes if incapacity occurs? Call our Orange County elder and estate planning law firm at (949) 260-1400 and ask if you qualify for a free Family Wealth Planning Session (normally $750).