Powers of attorney are among the most powerful documents in will execution and estate planning. These documents allow other people to handle someone’s financial or health matters if they are incapacitated. Not surprisingly, these wide-reaching powers are often abused by the trusted person who is named as the recipient. Attorneys give a variety of useful strategies for protection your elderly friends and relatives from abuse stemming from powers of attorney.

These documents allow the recipient to wield a great amount of power over the issuer. Researchers estimate that elderly Americans lose upwards of $2.9 billion each year because of financial abuse, and that amount is expected to balloon as more Baby Boomers reach their 65th year. In fact, the situation is so dire that 2013 has been deemed the “Year of Elder Abuse Prevention” to draw attention to this critical issue.

Although there is little information specifically related to powers of attorney, experts say scores of elderly people are mistreated through the use of these documents. Even worse, fraud can be incredibly difficult to detect and prevent because the issuer trusts the recipient with his or her welfare. Statistics show that friends and family members account for 34 percent of elder financial abuse cases.

Shocking stories have surfaced surrounding specific powers of attorney abuse, including one Florida man who took advantage of an Alzheimer’s patient. The younger man, a member of the elderly family’s synagogue, defrauded the confused patient into signing a power of attorney. The younger man was masquerading as the man’s son, so no one questioned his intentions until it was too late. The man made off with all of the couple’s money.

Different types of power of attorney exist. Be sure that you are using the correct document when you are drafting your will. A general power of attorney may not be necessary if you simply want to grant someone permission to make a single transaction. Powers of attorney must be crafted while you are in possession of your mental faculties, so take the time to consider these important documents before you reach an advanced age. Avoid being a victim of elder abuse by consulting an attorney during your estate planning process.

Luis E. Barreto