Pay attention to details when granting power of attorney
RAF MILDENHALL, England — When two airmen with the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron left the Air Force late last year, they granted power of attorney to a trusted mate to close out their personal affairs in England after they had returned to the States.
Airman Basic Ryan McClain was convicted last month of larceny for abusing that confidence. He will serve 20 months in confinement and be given a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force.
“The lesson is to very carefully specify what powers you’re giving that person,” said Capt. Matthew Blue, who prosecuted the case.
McClain was given a general power of attorney from each of his two friends, fellow squadron members Matthew Guild and Krystel Holdon, both now out of the service. He cashed checks on Guild’s account and helped himself to $1,900. He received Holdon’s rent deposit of 350 pounds, about $680, and cashed it for himself.
He was charged, too, with forgery, but found not guilty in a court-martial heard by a judge only.
Blue said the two friends left themselves open for trouble by giving McClain a general power of attorney, not a limited one.
“A general power of attorney gives you power to conduct business for that person as if you were that person,” Blue explained.
Maj. Patrick Dickson, deputy chief of the Air Force Legal Assistance and Preventive Law Division in the Pentagon, echoed Blue’s words.
“We always caution folks to give the least amount of power available,” he said in a telephone interview.
For example, if the power of attorney is granted to sell a house, limit it to that, he said. Also, sellers should include a price range in which they are willing to sell the house.
In this time of high operations tempo, many people are deployed for long periods of time and often grant power of attorney to someone to take care of business while they are away.
Dickson said some people are too quick to hand over power of attorney.
“Sometimes people think they need power of attorney to pay a bill,” he said.
That’s not necessary, he said. Anyone expecting a payment will take the money from anyone if it is for the bill in question. He suggests leaving behind cashier’s checks instead of giving someone control over a checking account.
His office tries to discourage people from giving power of attorney needlessly, he said, because of the potential for abuse.
“It’s always a gamble, honestly,” he said.
Blue said a spouse, parent or sibling is a better choice than a friend.
“It has to be someone they know extremely well and not just somebody they’ve had a couple drinks with one time,” he said. Dickson said, “Look for someone who’s responsible and someone you’ve known a good amount of time.”
He, too, suggested steering clear of friends, no matter how close you might be.
“We all have some irresponsible fun buddies,” he said.