Power of Attorney • Competency

In re Bridget T. Hasson, PICS Case No. 14-0520 (C.P. Philadephia Oct. 28, 2013) Herron, J. (9 pages).

Where, due to Alzheimer’s disease, a principal was not able to understand the nature of authority granted by a power of attorney and the extent of the assets subject to the power of attorney, and where the purported agent lacked basic understanding of the principal’s assets and had previously acted adversely to the principal, a court could not grant a durable power of attorney. Account not confirmed.

Bridget Hasson executed a power of attorney appointing her niece, Mary Bransfield, as her agent. At the time of the execution of power of attorney, Bridget was likely suffering from early Alzheimer’s disease; however, she was aware of her declining mental faculties, and of her increasing difficulty in managing her financial affairs, and of the need to have someone manage those affairs for her. Bridget later moved to Northern Ireland.

On behalf of Bridget Hasson, Rita Greene filed a petition seeking an accounting of Ms. Bransfield’s actions as agent, and to remove Ms. Bransfield as agent. Ms. Greene alleged that she had been appointed by Bridget as agent under a durable power of attorney. Ms. Bransfield objected to the petition to remove her as agent, arguing that Ms. Greene had an adverse interest to Bridget, and that Bridget was legally incompetent to appoint Ms. Greene as agent.

The court noted that it was necessary, at a minimum, to show the incompetency of a principal by showing that he or she did not understand: the authority given, the assets that would be subject to that authority, and the plain language of the notice of power of attorney.

The court found from the testimony of Ms. Bransfield, Ms. Greene, Bridget’s niece Margaret Thompson, and stipulated reports from Dr. T. Flynn, a psychiatrist specializing in geriatric disorders, that by the time Bridget appointed Ms. Bransfield her agent, she had already begun to have difficulty in managing her financial affairs, difficulties that worsened in the succeeding years, that by the time Bridget was interviewed by Dr. Flynn, he found that she had little grasp of how much money she had.

The court also found that, according to Ms. Greene’s testimony, by the time she was purportedly appointed agent, neither she nor Bridget could fully understand the extent of Bridget’s finances. Additionally, the court noted that Ms. Greene had previously voluntarily testified against Bridget in her lawsuit to recover on a promissory note. Conversely, the court found that Ms. Bransfield had full understanding of and complete records for Bridget’s finances.

Accordingly, the court found that it could not validate Ms. Greene’s power of attorney on the basis that neither she nor Bridget had a basic understanding of Bridget’s finances. The court also could not confirm Ms. Bransfield’s accounting, in order to preserve the right for someone with standing, which Ms. Greene lacked.