Powers of Attorney: A case study

Seniors Rights Victoria were very pleased to be able to help an older person living with elder abuse to get one of the first orders for compensation by VCAT under the Power of Attorney Act VIC 2014 (the Act).

Background

Christina migrated from Greece to Australia with her husband and three children in the 1960s. Christina’s husband died several years ago. Christina, 85, cannot read or write and speaks only Greek. She lived in the same neighbourhood, in inner Melbourne, since coming to Australia. She felt comfortable there as many of her neighbours were from a similar cultural background.

Nick, Christina’s youngest son, approached her for a loan to assist him with his business. Christina took out a reverse mortgage over her home. She has no other assets and relies on the aged pension. Nick failed to make repayments on the loan.

Christina’s other children, Christopher and Sophia, were concerned that the reverse mortgage was eating into the equity of their mother’s property and devaluing their inheritance. They convinced their mother to appoint them as her enduring Attorney of Attorneys (financial).

Christopher and Sophia told Christina that she must sell the house as the loan had swallowed up the equity and the bank was about to take possession. This was untrue. The terms of the loan ensure that the bank could never force her from the property. Nonetheless, using their Powers of Attorney, Christopher and Sophia forced the sale of Christina’s house. They told Christina they had bought her a new home in an outer suburb of Melbourne. They moved her there but she was very unhappy. She was isolated and felt lost without her old community. She can no longer do her shopping or access services independently.

Involvement of SRV

Christina contacted Senior Rights Victoria when she discovered that the new home is actually not in her name but in the name of Christopher and Sophia. In addition, Christopher and Sophia refuse to tell her what has happened to the balance of the money from the sale of her inner Melbourne property. She is aware that it sold for considerably more than the purchase price of the new house.

SRV wrote to Christopher and Sophia and asked them to provide accounts for the sale of Christina’s home. In the meantime, Sophia tried to organise care workers to assist Christina. The care workers are concerned about Christina’s relationship with her children and fear she is vulnerable to ongoing abuse.

A psychologist examines Christina. There are, however, difficulties with the assessment as:

  • Christina is not well on the day of the assessment
  • the interpreter engaged to communicate with Christina does not speak her dialect, and
  • her daughter, Sophia, is present during the assessment.

Involvement of VCAT

The psychologist recommends that an application be made to the Victorian and Civil Administration Tribunal (VCAT) for the appointment of an administrator to manage Christina’s financial and legal affairs. Christina does not want this to occur. SRV represented Christina at the hearing, arguing that the psychological assessment did not take into account Christina’s cultural and educational background. SRV sought a new assessment where Christina could communicate effectively and her cultural and educational background could be properly considered. On Christina’s behalf, SRV also seek financial details about the sale of the inner Melbourne home from the Attorneys under the Power of Attorney Act Vic 2014.

At the first hearing, Christopher and Sophia resign as Attorneys. No administrator is appointed and the Attorneys are ordered to provide detailed financial information about Christina’s finances with particular attention to the sale of Christina’s inner Melbourne home.

At a further hearing, SRV sought an order for compensation on behalf of Christina. The compensation sought includes the transfer of the house from Christopher and Sophia to Christina and the repayment of $120,000, the remaining proceeds of the sale. The matter is adjourned to enable discussions to take place between the parties. After the hearing, Christopher and Sophia agreed to transfer the property to Christina but refused to repay the remaining proceeds of sale. SRV brought the matter back to VCAT for a further and final hearing, at which VCAT ordered Christopher and Sophia to compensate Christina in the sum of $100,000.