A Power of Attorny Gone Wrong

A power of attorney is such an important document, often central to guiding our aging clients and their families through the maze of laws, benefits and issues they face as our population continues to age and lifespans are increased by advances in medical science.  However, this document must be carefully tailored and much thought must go into the decision of who to entrust as your agent.  A recent Ohio case shows what can happen when a power of attorney is misused and raises some interesting issues and questions about what the outcome might be here in New Jersey.

The particular case in question involves 91 year old John Potter, who filed a lawsuit against his daughter, Janice Cottrill, seeking to recover his home that she transferred to herself using a power of attorney that he signed in 2004 designating Cottrill as his agent.  Potter’s POA did not give Cottrill the ability to make transfers to herself, what is known as “self dealing”.  Potter discovered the deed transfer in 2010, although news reports don’t indicate when the deed transferred actually was carried out.

Potter sued to void the transfer and recover his home.  He won the initial case at the trial level but lost on appeal because the court said the 4 year statute of limitations had expired, meaning he had 4 years to file his lawsuit and he didn’t do it in time.  There is no mention of a further appeal so one would presume that Mr. Potter has no further legal options to recover his home.

The media focus has been on the human element, a daughter evicting a father from his own home that he built and her daughter – his granddaughter – now trying to help by raising money online so Dad can buy the home back from his own daughter.  But, there are some legal questions and issues that haven’t been discussed or addressed in those same media reports.  Next week we’ll discuss what they are and the lessons that we can learn from John Potter’s terrible plight.

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