Nova Scotia

Power of attorney accountability needs improvement, family member says

Nova Scotia's law reform commission has called for an overhaul of how power of attorney works in the province. A local woman couldn't agree more.

A power of attorney is meant to help families avoid financial problems when someone becomes unable to manage their money but a Nova Scotia woman says her experience has shown that power can be abused by the very person who's supposed to be protecting the finances.

Last week, the Nova Scotia's law reform commission called for an overhaul of how power of attorney works in the province, starting with clearer language and reporting rules.

The woman contacted CBC News after the report was released, saying she could not agree more that more accountability was needed. She isn't being identified as her claims involve another person and aren't before a court of law.

In 2013, she and her now ex-husband separated. In the year before the separation, her father-in-law lived with them as he battled dementia and other health issues.

She and her ex-husband went to a lawyer and he was was given power of attorney, she was listed as the secondary name.

During the time her father-in-law lived with them, the woman says she took care of his banking. She was also able to pay off some previous debts for him and never took money from him for food or rent.

Within 10 days of the marital separation, she says a $7,000 cash advance was taken from one of her father-in-law's credit cards. Over the next eight months, she still had access to his online banking information and saw a pattern of spending that wasn't there before.

"Anyone looking at my father-in-law's banking records would know immediately something was wrong because his spending habits changed drastically," she said.

She says accounts were being used for large purchases, cash advances, groceries and gas, trips and alcohol.

"He was not a drinker," the woman said of her father-in-law, "But over the eight months, I think I totaled it up and it was in the realm of $2,300 just at NSLC."

The woman contacted one of the man's daughters who lives out of province, but she declined to get involved. The power of attorney had not been registered at the man's bank branch, so the bank manager refused to discuss the situation.

Eventually she contacted the elder abuse hotline where a counsellor suggested she call police or go to court to order an examination of the bank records. Both suggestions did not appeal to her.

"I was not comfortable in doing that," she said. "I felt that put me in an extremely awkward position where it may look like a he says-she says kind of situation."

Her father-in-law sold his home about 10 months before he died earlier this year. The woman says after the sale went through, she noticed all credit cards and a line of credit were paid off. She also noticed a credit card belonging to her ex-husband was paid off.

In just a matter of weeks, the woman said the debt was back up again, mainly due to cash advances, and it wasn't long before the man owed about $2,000.

When he died, the woman said her father-in-law was penniless.

"He passed away with nothing," she said. "He had nothing left to his name. He worked extremely hard all of his life and he would be mortified and humiliated."

She says she hopes the province listens to the recommendations in the law reform commission report, especially the call for more accountability. She suggests an independent group to oversees power of attorney in Nova Scotia.

"I don't believe there are any safeguards in place for a senior citizen who has a power of attorney," she said.

"In some cases people view that money as suddenly being theirs and for some reason, have a sense of entitlement to it."