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What to do when a relative's power of attorney forbids contact?

 
pollinator
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I've never really posted anything like this on Permies.  But I've got a few really emotionally challenging things going on right now. One is my aunt, who may or may not be dying right now.  Maybe someone here might be legally savvy here, or have advice or have dealt with this before...?

My aunt checked herself into the ER because she couldn't breathe well.  She's a 60 year smoker with COPD, this is kind of a "normal" thing, unfortunately.  But she had a bad flu so they hospitalized her in the ICU.  I live 500 miles away and was notified by my sister.  She transferred out of the ICU after a few days but remained in the hospital.  During this time, I guess her best friend and her named power of attorney decided to bar all medical disclosure about my aunt to the family.  So none of us know why she was still in the hospital or what her status was, the doctors weren't legally able to tell us.  My parents spied some documentation in the hospital room that said something about heart failure on it but the nurses refused to explain.

I spent days ringing her hospital room until she finally picked up.  We had a momentary conversation, I desperately wanted to know if I needed to make the trip to come see her.  I asked her if she was critical, if she needed me to come, and her power of attorney spoke up in the background and my aunt abruptly hung up on me.  That night her PoA moved her to a different hospital without telling anyone and issued a "no contact" declaration.  No visits, no phone calls, nothing.  Her children and my family are totally in the dark.  We don't know if she's still alive or if she's back home...  we don't know where she's at.  

To stress matters.  Her dying wish was to see her son's grave.  She never got closure about his death.  I've been on a 2.5 year hunt for his grave.  I finally found it, thanks to some documentation we rooted up during this medical chaos.  I have photos of it!  I know where it is!  I reached out to the community in San Antonio Texas and found a couple who went to his grave and photographed it for me.  And now I have no way of getting them to her.  And it's breaking my heart.  I really want to do this for her.  And I'm sure her other children would love for this to happen, too.  No body in the family has seen his grave.

Can a PoA really bar all contact from family?  From immediate family even, like her children or siblings?!  Is there ANYTHING we can do?  My aunt's children have gathered from around the country, and now my aunt is missing, basically.
 
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Oh man, that's tough.  Sending good thoughts to you in this trying time.

They absolutely can bar contact for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes these are even good reasons, but often it's not.

Since it's in the US and since it sounds like time is a factor, it's probably fastest to have a battle of lawers.  They need to prove that the actions of the POA are acting in accordance with the known wishes of the individual or can prove some other legal ground for barring access.  The lawers will probably use the Habeas Corpus style argument as it's a very quick but uncertain.  

Habeas corpus is a recourse in law through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment to a court and request that the court order the custodian of the person, usually a prison official, to bring the prisoner to court, to determine whether the detention is lawful.



Problem is, they have to prove that the patient is undergoing imprisonment instead of receiving medical treatment.  So they might go with one of the other legal paths - which is where my general understanding of US law ends and things get complicated.  

 
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Hi Jen,

Sounds like maybe your Aunt doesn’t want people to know her status. And has instructed others not to disclose that information. I don’t know that there is much to be done about that, unless you have reason to believe she is incompetent, and you are willing to go to court to try to get appointed her guardian. Expensive and messy.

Maybe send a letter to her last address with the pictures of the grave?  And ask to speak with her? People can get funny when they are dying - secretive, withdrawn, don’t want others to see them like that, etc...  hard to know all of the reasons.
 
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Find an attorney or two in that state who can advise you as to how the laws work there, and if there happens to be any legal reason you couldn't visit every nursing home in the city...
 
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I first had power of attorney for my mom and then when we moved her across state lines to live with us was appointed her guardian.  
She had alzheimers and was still at home alone early on. Even with POA I consulted with her lawyer over bills and money spent for her...selling her house, etc..  There was never an issue of me keeping anyone from seeing her even if I wanted to...I don't think that's within the POA scope.  I do know that if she herself, your aunt, does not want others to know her condition she can limit who is allowed to get information for any reason.

I get the feeling you are worried her friend is taking advantage of her?  

 
Jen Fan
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If my only recourse involved lawyers, it probably won't happen unfortunately.  For a lot of reasons I don't have the energy to type out.

My inclination is that my aunt is at the PoA's home on hospice?  Just a suspicion, but it would be the most secret place to keep her.  I don't know where the PoA lives.  My aunt would not hide herself from me, I am very apart from all the family drama and we talk often.  But she's prone to manipulation right now.  There is indeed some family drama amiss.  The PoA will inherit almost everything my aunt has.  The PoA "helped" write my aunt's will while my aunt was in a near-death medical rollercoaster a few years back.  My aunt wanted to change the will afterward but they somehow prevented that, I don't know the details.  All evidence points to ill intent, IMO.  

I thought of spam calling every medical place I could, but, well, I haven't.  It's been emotionally exhausting, and very difficult being so far away.  If I had been in the area I would have been able to see her in person before she was transferred.    They're in the Boise valley in Idaho.  The list of medical facilities would be hundreds long.  I have no idea where to begin.  She could be anywhere between or beyond Middleton and Mountain Home.  My only suggestion that she's still alive is that her cell phone still rings.  I would think they'd just it off if she passed.  
 
Judith Browning
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and no other family lives close by?  
If you knew the friends name it is fairly easy to get a little information on line...town at least?

Usually the best choice for power of attorney is someone close by that is trusted....that probably played a part in the beginning and now the friend doesn't want to give up that control?

I'm so sorry...frustrating and sad for you to lose contact with someone you've been close to.....
 
r ranson
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In Canada, we have a difference between Medical Proxy and a PoA. PoA here is more for legal documents, banking, and getting paperwork done.  Depending on the level (there are several versions of PoA here), they may not be able to do anything about money or assessments, nor make medical choices.   The medical proxy doesn't need so many legal documents and is either chosen by the patient or their doctor if they aren't competent to make the decision.  The medical proxy has more power than a POA for things like this, but they are also governed by the doctors understanding of the patient's wishes.  That's one of the benefits of our health system, the doctor can step in and say "that decision isn't in accordance with the wishes the patient made known to me." and start the ball rolling to quickly have a new proxy appointed.  

But in the US, things are very different.  It comes from having a business model health care system, that medical decisions are legal and paperwork based.  So yeh, in the US, a PoA has a huge amount of power in this sphere - BUT, quite often they act beyond their legal boundaries and can be successfully challenged.

At this stage, even if you aren't planing the legal path (which if you can get some family together to raise the funds, would be a good idea if only to make certain your relative is getting the best care - the PoA being beneficiary of the will is a red flag here), it's important to be seen to do the right thing.  Document everything!  Everyone you contact, every conversation you have about this with friends.  Journalling not only gives you protection if things do go legal (the PoA might be vicious after death) but it is a powerful tool for getting through the emotional turmoil.  

 
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The PoA will inherit almost everything my aunt has.  The PoA "helped" write my aunt's will while my aunt was in a near-death medical rollercoaster a few years back.  My aunt wanted to change the will afterward but they somehow prevented that, I don't know the details.  All evidence points to ill intent, IMO.  




Sounds like a case for Conflict of Interest.

Many places now have hotlines or help organizations dedicated to stopping elder abuse. A quick google search turned up hundreds. See if any of them can help you. They may even be able to find an attorney who would be willing to work pro bono.
 
pioneer
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Jen Fan wrote:My aunt would not hide herself from me, I am very apart from all the family drama and we talk often.  But she's prone to manipulation right now.  There is indeed some family drama amiss.  The PoA will inherit almost everything my aunt has.  The PoA "helped" write my aunt's will while my aunt was in a near-death medical rollercoaster a few years back.  My aunt wanted to change the will afterward but they somehow prevented that, I don't know the details.  All evidence points to ill intent, IMO...  

... She could be anywhere between or beyond Middleton and Mountain Home.  My only suggestion that she's still alive is that her cell phone still rings.  I would think they'd just it off if she passed.  



Random thoughts.  After writing notes, I would call Idaho's Attorney General's Office to ask for direction.

Was a CPO filed to keep family away?  

An insurance company footing the bill for your aunt's medical care may be interested in hearing your concerns, as might a life insurance agency.  

How information is presented is important.  The same thing said different ways can work for, or against.  It may be important to have what authorities consider to be evidence.  Perhaps ask what they consider to be evidence or information they can use?  

I would want to know if a PoA was signed under duress and if so, how to proceed.

Law enforcement, attorneys, and businesses/insurance companies will have different interests and approaches.  Each will want what they consider to be 'pertinent information or facts' aside concerns voiced.  If what is considered concerning does not align with expectations, in my thinking that means I need to be talking with someone else.  

Maybe something on these pages might serve as a springboard.  If your aunt is not an 'elder', try looking for information about vulnerable individuals?

https://www.idaholegalaid.org/node/2235/section

Elder Abuse May Look Like:

   Emotional and verbal abuse
   Physical abuse or restraint
   Neglect
   Financial exploitation
   Not letting other friends or family members see the elder.
   Abusers may be: family members, caregivers, trusted friends

Civil remedies.  If you are the victim of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation, one remedy you have is the ability to revoke a power of attorney document if the person named in that document is not acting in your interest. You also have the option of bringing a civil lawsuit against an abusive party. A civil lawsuit is a non-criminal case that seeks money to compensate for physical or financial harms. For example, if an adult child took money from a senior’s bank account without her permission, a civil lawsuit could be filed to try and get the money returned. If you are interested in pursuing a civil lawsuit, you may want to talk with an attorney about your case. Another option available to victims of physical or sexual abuse is the Civil Protection Order (CPO), which orders an abusive family member or household member to stay away from you. To get a CPO, you apply at the local courthouse and give a sworn statement. A free CPO form is also available at idaholegalaid.org.



If you or a family member knows which medical insurance group is used by your aunt, I would call them to explain the situation.  Medicaid as an example:

https://www.ag.idaho.gov/office-resources/medicaid-fraud/

The Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigates and prosecutes Medicaid fraud by health care providers and the abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of patients in any facility that accepts Medicaid funds.



I'm sorry you're going through this.  Years ago, I had to report my father (also an elder) for elder abuse of his brother so both could receive adequate care.  These parts of life stink *sigh*
 
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Idaho Adult Protective Services
You can start the process online. And there's links on there to talk to local people too, but if you don't know where she is, state might be better. Can a search find the person with POA's address?

As someone who has been the power of attorney for someone who died slow and hard, this horrifies me. I put effort into attempting to make his family be helpful, which they were not. The POA can be written many ways, and they are legal as long as they are signed. Depending on what exactly the POA says, powers vary. The hospital she was in has a copy of the POA, would take a court order to get it though. Her insurance has a copy. If she has a lawyer, the lawyer has a copy. If she has a lawyer, telling him all of this may set him moving, this is part of what lawyers are for. If he's the estate lawyer, he will have an interest in making sure it gets done right. He might be a powerful ally, if you know who he is or can figure it out.  If your aunt is under Medicaid, the state has people who's job it is to stop this, they can demand an audit. The Adult Protective Services would know more. They have offices and people who can talk to you on the phone and get the process going.

Hugs, this is vile, I wish I had wisdom, all I can offer is ideas about how to get help...
 
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I asked my wife (a nurse) about this. Mostly she said lawyer, which you've already heard a lot. She also mentioned the hospital's ethics comittee. If she's not in their hospital anymore, they may be limited in what they can do, but if this is abuse or against your aunt's will, they can evaluate that. It's what the comittee is for. She thinks mentioning "lawsuit" or "elder abuse" might help you get some attention.

If your aunt is competent to make her own decisions, we both think that power of attorney doesn't let her friend deny visitors or change who can or can't find out her status. My wife says a guardian can do that. Otherwise, this is something your aunt has done, even if her friend put her up to it. Maybe she changed (or failed to fill out) her HIPPA paperwork. Or my wife tells me a patient can fill out a paper to become unlisted.

For what it's worth, if it's a HIPPA thing, nobody at the hospital can tell you anything. She doesn't think HIPPA binds anyone not in the medical field. If a friend knows where she is, or a PI finds her, my wife thinks that'd be okay legally. (For sure, check all of this with a lawyer.)

If your aunt's not competent, and her friend's not acting in her interest, you may have to seek guardianship or ask the state to take guardianship.
 
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if you know who her lawyers are contact them with the pictures and info. even if you cant see her, theres no reason she cant see what you have for her
 
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This thread already has solid advice.

Certainly, speak with an attorney.

Have you seen the document with your own eyes?  

In my experience POA is normally limited in scope and can be retracted by the issuing party at any time.
 
John F Dean
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I just got back from my high tunnel. If money is an issue, check  in with a school of law.
 
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I work with a retired attorney.
He says Raven is largely correct.
You do need to get the court involved.
If you know the right forms to fill out and right requests to make, you might (MIGHT) be able to get a judge to open records for you.
There are no guarantees.
If you don't know all the right forms and requests, you definitely need a lawyer.
He also says these forms and requests often vary from state to state.
 
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I have no idea what others have said so may be repeating things. There are different kinds of powers of attorneys. You can adjust them to say specific things. So, it's hard to say what she's legally allowed to do without seeing the power of attorney. Most likely this is a medical POA which puts her in charge of medical care and decisions. The hospital would have to respect the restrictions she places on who can know medical details. It could be a general POA which would likely put her in charge of generally everything. Again, who knows what exactly it says she's in charge of without seeing it. I'd ask to see it.


Now, as a pain in the ass person I will say that without a restraining order good luck keeping me from contacting members of my family.



Also, is your Aunt mentally competent? Does she have money? If you think the woman who has been given POA is taking advantage of her then report this to the police. At the very least the cops will track your aunt down for ya'll if you report elder abuse or fraud.
 
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Lots of good advice here....my two cents...whatever you want to do or think you should do, do it quick. My mother and her partner fell under the influence of a criminal caregiver.  We got them out of the situation but it was very scary for both of them. They were traumatized by her treatment and threats. After it was all done, my aunts, my sister,  and myself all had regrets about not following our instincts early on and acting sooner.

Sending good thoughts and strength.
 
John F Dean
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Hi M Green,

Unfortunately there are many of them out there.
 
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I'd like to highlight what C. West suggested:

"If you know who her lawyers are, contact them with the pictures and info. Even if you can't see her, there's no reason she can't see what you have [done] for her."

I sense that while this whole affair is sad and unfair, your deepest regret will be not getting the photos of your cousin's grave to his mother. Play detective (start by asking everyone in your family) and go bulldog, not giving up until you find her lawyer. If you think she's in or near a small town, you could perhaps get the photos and story printed in the local newspaper (lost aunt, son's grave, etc. etc.).

Also, as someone else mentioned, if you know the POA's name, there's info to be found online.

If you have the energy (and perhaps if others in your family agree and are willing to pitch in), all the other advice is helpful, too. It sounds nefarious, as though the POA wants to make sure your aunt has no opportunity to tell anyone in your family her final wishes, which could change the will.

Godspeed.
 
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If you haven't been able to see her yet, maybe contact her local police for a wellness check and tell them what's going on. If you can prove by your phone record that you've been in regular contact with her maybe that will carry a little more weight and they could go and check on her and speak to her without the poa there, letting her know that you have some information about her child's grave that you would like to share with her and see what happens.
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