Power-of-attorney abuse more common than we think, expert says

Fraud expert Brian Trainor is visiting Manitoba communities to advise people on how they can avoid falling victim to power-of-attorney abuse, which he says is often under-reported because people don't want to cause problems within a family.

Problem is under-reported because 'seniors don't want to turn in their kids to the police'

"It's so bizarre how we as humans can twist anything around to satisfy our own greed. Because that's what this is, this is nothing more than greed," says Brian Trainor. (Canadian Press)

A fraud expert is visiting Manitoba communities to advise people on how they can avoid falling victim to power-of-attorney abuse.

Brian Trainor, a retired sergeant from the Saskatoon Police Service, specialized in cases of fraud. He will be in Grandview, Man., on Tuesday evening for an educational presentation.

"It's common. It's so common, you wouldn't believe it," he told Radio Noon host Janet Stewart on Tuesday.

"We don't hear it in the news because seniors don't want to turn in their kids to the police. They don't want to criminalize their kids for theft. All they want is for the crime to stop. So if they come to police or a family member comes to the police, they don't really want charges laid."

What is it?

Power of attorney is a legal agreement wherein a person can authorize someone else to act on their behalf. More practically, this means signing over control of your finances.

Power-of-attorney abuse refers to someone abusing that control, no longer acting in the best interest of the person whose finances they're managing. 

"It's bullying is what it is," Trainor said.

This typically presents itself in family situations, Trainor said, where a child is placed in charge of their parent's finances and they "run amok."

"It's so bizarre how we, as humans, can twist anything around to satisfy our own greed. Because that's what this is — this is nothing more than greed. You have the power over somebody, the money is just sitting there," Trainor said.

He said the problem exists because there is no transparency or accountability built into the agreement.

Trainor said he was occasionally contacted by the individuals' financial institutions, concerned about unusual spending, but more often than not he was contacted by other members of the individuals' families.

"This splits families right in half," he said.

Because of that, only a small amount of power-of-attorney abuse is reported, Trainor said.

What to do?

1. Get legal advice

Trainor says the first thing people should do is go to a lawyer. He said this is not the time to try a do-it-yourself kit off the store shelf.

By going to a lawyer, Trainor said you will ensure the person being named as power of attorney knows their duties and your lawyer knows how to act on your behalf, creating an agreement you're satisfied with.

2. Think two

Trainor also said it's a good idea to name two powers of attorney, even if it is two of your kids. "They tend to keep each other honest," he said.

3. Think twice

Trainor said one of the mistakes many people make when choosing a power of attorney is that they automatically think their children are the best choice. He advises that this might not always be the case.

Ask yourself a few questions: Are they good with money? Do you have a good relationship? Do you trust your kid?

If the answer is no, maybe they are not the best choice for power of attorney, Trainor said.

Brian Trainor will be at the Grandview Kinsmen Community Centre in Grandview, Man., at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?