Attorney: 'Wait to use power of attorney until you have to'

Published On: Mar 01 2013 06:12:28 PM CST   Updated On: Mar 01 2013 07:24:03 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

A La Crosse Woman is facing a felony charge for allegedly stealing more than $100,00 from her elderly father.

It draws attention to the dangers the elderly may face when trusting someone to handle their finances, something many find themselves needing as they age.

It was no different for an elderly La Crosse man who handed over the power of attorney to his daughter to manage his finances after losing his wife.

Unfortunately, it took him four years to realize she wasn't helping him but rather stealing thousands of dollars from his account.

Debra Hollowitch, a 46-year-old La Crosse woman, is accused of stealing more than $137,000 from her elderly father during a four year period.

The criminal complaint says her father ended her power of attorney privileges when he went to withdraw some money and realized a significant amount was missing.

It resulted in a felony charge for theft of movable property exceeding $10,000.

It's an example of what can happen when the power of attorney is abused, but attorneys say there are steps you can take to get help while also protecting your money.

"I would never recommend just one person having power of attorney. I would two people. Someone to watch the other and then at least you know you have two people looking at the same thing," said attorney Phil Addis.

Addis says you can also be very specific when deciding which powers to give someone.

"On the form the state recommends, you have to specifically award a power. You could say, 'You're allowed to do my banking, deposits and write checks on my account but nothing else,' or, 'You have permission to do my taxes but nothing else,'" said Addis.

Addis also suggests waiting to hand over that power until you really have to.

"Unless you're incapacitated, do you really want to have one where someone can just run and do your banking for you if there's no need for it? You may just want to make it take effect when you are unable to do it yourself," said Addis.

Addis says many people do choose a family member to handle their finances.

However, he says if you don't feel you can trust your family, it may be a good idea to hand it over to a financial adviser instead.

Hollowitch will be in court for her preliminary hearing on March 7.

If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.